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Published: September 1, 2020

While the electives for the first year of law school may vary somewhat from school to school, students at almost every law school are required to take the same core first year classes: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Property, Torts, and Legal Research & Writing.

During the 1L academic year, most law professors teach these classes (other than Legal Research & Writing) using the case method. They start class by discussing an assigned case and, through class participation, help students boil that case down to a fine point of law. Professors repeat this process with subsequent cases that typically build upon what students have already learned. As a result, it's not until the end of the semester that students see how the various rules, standards and tests they learned throughout the semester interrelate to create a body of law. As you can imagine, reading cases without any context/understanding for where those cases may fit in the larger course is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle without having the benefit of the picture on the front of the box — it can be done, but not without considerable effort and inefficiencies.

While some students decide to spend the summer before their 1L year reenergizing or making extra money, other students decide to expose themselves to the seminal cases in the core 1L classes. Different approaches work for different students.

Civil Procedure

This course introduces law students to the language, structure and complex rules governing the American civil justice system, including the individual components of trials and appeals.

Constitutional Law

This course examines the large body of Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the important, but often ambiguous, phrases and concepts embodied in the U.S. Constitution and State judicial methods.

Contracts

This course examines the legal principles concerning enforceable bargains. Agreements among and between people and entities all involve promises — the Law of Contracts governs which promises are enforceable in a court of law.

Criminal Law

This course examines criminal offenses like murder, rape and robbery; the minimum conduct and intent people must have in order to commit crimes; and the various justifications and excuses that can absolve people of criminal liability.

Property

This course examines the distribution of resources, wealth and power, including both personal property (tangible property) and real property (land).

Torts

This course examines violations of non-negotiated, societal rules that govern how people treat one another through negligence, defamation, liability, wrongful death and more.

Legal Research & Writing

This course examines basic lawyering skills, including how to research legal issues, persuasive writing and oral argument, analyzing and synthesizing legal authority, and writing legal memoranda or court briefs.

By Don Macaulay, BarBri Law Preview