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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

What Class That Is Currently Optional At Many Law Schools Should Be Made Mandatory?

I would like to thank Dan Markel for inviting me back for another guest stint at PrawfsBlawg. The last time I was here, I led my posts with an entry about what class more law schools should add to their curricula. I ended up getting some very good responses: classes in plea bargaining, depositions, law firm management, statistics, state constitutionalism, etc. Based upon the good responses, I thought I would lead this set of guest posts with an entry asking what class is currently optional at many schools but should be made mandatory.

Of course, this begs the question of whether law schools should increase the number of mandatory classes, so let's start with this poll:

How do you feel about the number of required classes in law school?

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Now, part of your answer might depend upon where you teach. Some schools merely require students to take the Big Six: Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Torts, Property, and Constitutional Law. Other schools require students to take significantly more classes. For instance, at Detroit Mercy, students are required to take:

Contracts, Property, Torts, Civil Procedure, Applied Legal Theory and Analysis (ALTA), Core Concepts, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Taxation, two Law Firm Program courses, a Clinic, an International Law elective, and an upper-level writing requirement. 

At Thomas Jefferson, students are  required to take

Torts I, Torts II, Contracts I, Contacts II, Civil Procedure I, Civil Procedure II, Legal Writing I, Legal Writing II, Criminal Law, Property I, Business Associations, Constitutional Law l, Constitutional Law ll, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Professional Skills Course Requirement, Property II, Remedies, and Upper Level Writing Requirement.

My general sense is that lower ranked law schools require students to take more classes than higher ranked law schools and that the goal of these additional classes is to prepare students for the bar exam. Of course classes important for the bar exam are also usually important for the practice of law, and every law school has some concern about students passing the bar. The counter-argument is that students can learn all bar subjects during bar prep and that they can learn any subject while practicing, meaning that we should allow students to pick and choose their classes with a minimum of required classes. 

So, I am interested in two types of comments in response to this post. First, why do you think that the number of required classes in law school should increase, decrease, or remain the same? And second, if you are not averse to increasing the number of required classes, what class that is not required at many schools would you make a requirement?

As an Evidence professor, my answer is Evidence, which many schools require but many schools do not. It is tested on the MBE and MEE. If you ever see the inside of a courtroom, you need a working knowledge of the Federal Rules of Evidence. And, even if you never do, a working knowledge of evidentiary rules can be invaluable in conducting depositions, doing document review, etc. Another class which I have often seen recommended as a required class is Administrative Law. So, what are your thoughts?

-Colin Miller

Posted by Evidence ProfBlogger on September 1, 2010 at 12:17 PM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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I second legislation. I can bolster my recommendation by noting I don't teach legislation. But I do teach courses with a lot of statutes or statutory interpretation in them, and digesting a statute or regulation is a crucial practical skill that the traditional first-year courses (with the partial exception of Civ Pro, which I do teach) don't prepare them for.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 2, 2010 3:10:48 PM

Along with Evidence, I would say Corporations (and perhaps Taxation I). No matter what area of law you practice, you will need to know the basics about corporations and corporate law.

Posted by: anon | Sep 2, 2010 12:17:45 PM

First, a side note: If this trend is intended to help students pass the bar exam, what does that tell us about the usefulness of the bar exam in actually rejecting incompetent lawyers? (More than bar examiners would have us believe...)

Instead of additional core required courses, I'd suggest a couple of "choose at least one from" semi-electives that are (in practice anyway) related.One from antitrust, patent, copyright & trademarkOne from bankruptcy, consumer finance, income taxAt least two civ pro/litigation theory (as opposed to practicum) courses beyond the first year, including ADR, federal courts, remedies, complex litigation procedure, etc.

I'd also like to see more law students (whether proto-litigators or proto-in-house-counsel) take a class in investigative technique as an adjunct/follow-on to the basic course in evidence... but that's not going to happen until both legal academia and the legal profession in general generate more competence in the area in the first place. I could tell far too many war stories about the cost to clients of learning these skills on the job with no theoretical background, many based on "tropies" I have on my wall.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Sep 2, 2010 11:51:00 AM

Federal Courts. For students planning to do anything related to litigation, it's essential. My sense is that many students don't take Federal Courts because (a) they don't exactly know what it is and (b) they think it's hard and taking it will negatively affect their GPA. Making the course mandatory would make (a) irrelevant and (b) disappear.

Posted by: Jason Mazzone | Sep 1, 2010 11:27:07 PM

I'm with Colin and Scott re Evidence (and it's actually mandatory at OCU Law). I was astonished in practice at how little many litigators knew about the actual rules of evidence -- more so than any other "big" law school subject.

Posted by: Brendan Maher | Sep 1, 2010 7:24:05 PM

Legislation/Statutory interpretation, as well as the classes already mentioned.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Sep 1, 2010 3:36:30 PM

Administrative law. I think it is mandatory at some schools, but not all.

Posted by: anon | Sep 1, 2010 3:22:17 PM

I agree as to Evidence, for the reasons you state. I would also add State Constitutional Law, which is not required at any school that I am aware of. In fact, it's not even offered at most law schools. That seems a pretty glaring omission. For a recent and well-stated account of the reasons, see Jeffrey S. Sutton, Why Teach--and Why Study--State Constitutional Law, 34 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 165 (2009). Finally, I would suggest that a course in Legal Drafting (in addition to the normal Legal Writing classes offered at all law schools) should be required, both to allow students to hone micro-writing skills, such as careful word choice, and to provide a transactional counter-weight to the current landscape of skills courses, which overwhelmingly tilt in the direction of litigation and trial work.

Posted by: Scott Bauries | Sep 1, 2010 12:38:03 PM

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