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Friday, August 11, 2006

One or Two Semester First Year Classes?

About a year or so ago, our curriculum committee considered briefly (but never decided) the issue of whether we should do away with 1L classes that span the entire school year.  Currently, torts and contracts do this, while half of civil procedure (jurisdiction) is taught during the first year with the other half (Rules) being taught as an upper level elective.   Similarly, Con Law I (structure, federalism, and 14th Amdt) is taught as a required course in the first year, while Con Law II (mainly 1st Amdt) is taught as a second year elective.

This is all very interesting to me because I had probably one of the most unorthodox 1L curricular experiences around.   Some moons ago, I attended Georgetown University Law Center and was enrolled (along with fellow law prof/classmates Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Erica Hashimoto) in an experimental (some said crunchy) curriculum in which we had course titles like "Property in Time," "Process," "Government Processes," "Legal Justice," "First Year Seminar," and, my personal favorite, "Democracy & Coercion" (can you guess what that was about?).  In addition, we had a combined con-tort class called "Bargain, Exchange, & Liability" which was 5 credits and lasted the entire year.

In any event, here's my question for everyone (brought up by one of the commentators to my previous post on summer school for 1Ls):  should the majority of 1L classes be one semester affairs or do two semester classes still have a place in the curriculum?  One of the issues that will inevitably have to be dealt with in deciding this question is what material will be cut when you reduce contracts and torts from 6 credits to 4.   Also, is it better to make classes like civ pro and con law required 4 credit 1L courses with more advance topics in these areas being left to upper level study?  Finally, by teaching 1L classes in one semester (so less overall credits), isn't it a good thing that you would thereby free up as many as 6 credits for first year electives in legal theory (CLS, L&E, CRT, etc.) and  so-called perspective courses?

Through comments, I like to get a sense of not only how people would like to see the first year curriculum structured, but how schools are actually doing things presently.

BTW, FWIW, Democracy & Coercion was a wonderful criminal procedure/con law class taught by Mike Seidman.

Posted by Workplace Prof on August 11, 2006 at 05:39 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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At Marquette, all 1L courses are single-semester courses. In the 1L curriculum, I've taught both Civ Pro (4 credits) and Crim (3), and I think both worked well as one-semester courses. Of course, you can't cover everything, but there is enough time to give students a taste for the major issues in both courses. With full-semester courses, I would be concerned about either overloading 1Ls with credit hours--they've got enough stress as it is--or shifting more required courses into the second year, when students (in my view) should be spending much of their time doing clinics, seminars, and specialized upper-level courses of particular interest to them.

Posted by: Michael O'Hear | Aug 12, 2006 11:31:43 AM

Isn't it exactly backwards to make Jurisdiction the required semester of civil procedure and to make the Rules an optional elective? In practice, jurisdictional issues account for one-tenth of procedure-related disputes, if that. Far more cases are won or lost because of a mistake in the motion practice than because of a jurisdictional isse.

Posted by: Pseudonymo | Aug 12, 2006 9:59:25 AM

Matt: When I was a law student at NYU in the '90s, two of the 1L courses (and some upper level courses, too) were two-semester offerings. As I understand it, they've pretty much been done away with.

For some courses, two semesters provided very useful, comprehensive coverage of the material. That was my experience in Civil Procedure and in Corporations. In other courses, it was a useless drag (Contracts comes to mind).

For the upper level courses, a two-semester offering also allowed greater flexibility in course scheduling for students. For instance, you could take a one-semester Corporations class for 5 credits with maybe two other classes. Or you could take a 6-credit, two-semester Corporations class and fit in a couple more small classes into your schedule over the year.

Posted by: anon | Aug 12, 2006 12:31:52 AM

Just out of curiosity, how common are these two-semester courses? I ask only because at Penn they are almost non-existant, when they do exist they are for highly specialized upper-level classes, and, while I enjoyed most of my 1L courses and would have enjoyed taking specialized classes on some of them (on some I did) the idea of dragging that particular class out over a full year seems unbearable to me.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 11, 2006 9:13:35 PM

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