Are you curious about what to expect as a student earning a Juris Doctor? Although class titles and coursework may differ, nearly all law schools offer certain core courses and electives.
Of course, as you progress through your degree, you’ll find more opportunities to personalize your classes. But in the first year of law school, you can expect to complete several core classes while learning how to think like a lawyer.
Whether you want to prepare now or catch up on some pre-law reading, explore what you’ll learn in typical law school courses while discovering the skills and outcomes required for success.
What are the common law school methods of studies?
As an undergraduate student, you may have experienced mainly lectures and labs, but law schools focus heavily on the case method approach.
The case method looks at judicial opinions related to an area of law, usually from appellate courts reviewing decisions of lower courts. Professors ask students to show how the court reasoned through the law, facts, and precedents to reach its decision. You may be asked about the method of reasoning, facts that were most relevant and important, precedents, and legal principles. While it’s vital to know the black letter rules of law, you must understand how to apply the rules to different fact patterns. With the case method approach, you’ll learn how small differences in facts can lead to big variations in outcomes.
What skills will law students learn and refine?
Before heading into law school, it helps to brush up on the skills you’ll need to tackle a challenging workload. While you’ll continue to work on and improve these abilities during your J.D. degree classes, you can be prepared by taking pre-law courses or reading books before school starts. Your studies will hone your talents in areas such as:
- Critical reading comprehension
- Problem-solving and lateral thinking
- Persuasive, concise, and error-free writing
- Oral communication and listening
- Legal research using verbal questioning and evaluation
- Analytical and interpretation abilities
- Reasoning and judgment
- Organization and time-management
Which classes teach practical skills?
Although all courses aim to teach you to be a well-rounded lawyer, skills classes emphasize practical exercises that refine your talents in a realistic setting. For instance, you may perform role-playing exercises to conduct mediations, negotiations, or arbitrations of different cases. Or you may be asked to complete a property title search. Your skills tests and practice exercises depend on your selected courses. At St. Francis, our J.D. curriculum has a variety of classes to hone your abilities, such as:
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Evidence I and II
- Professional Skills I through V
- Trusts, Wills, and Estates
- Business Associations I and II
- Intellectual Property I and II
- Community Property I and II
- Real Property I and II
- Legal Negotiation
- Contract Drafting
St. Francis also provides access to LexisNexis. This digital legal database houses tons of law review articles and practice guides, so your work in this online library improves your research efforts and ability to navigate law practice.
How will course goals and outcomes differ?
While all doctrinal courses want to teach you the rules, it’s also vital to learn how to apply them. You’ll find that many classes have additional goals. Your instructor may focus on several objectives in addition to teaching you the law. A traditional or hybrid law school program covers:
- Lawyering problems before, during, and after the case
- What is statutory construction
- The historical development of doctrinal rules
- Juris prudential and philosophical frameworks
- Implications of gender or race
- Law and economics perspectives
- Ethical and professional responsibility
- Procedural issues
- Pivotal versus irrelevant facts
- Underlying policies behind the rules
How do professors teach and assess skills?
Professors use a combination of questions, hypothetical scenarios, and written or oral exercises. Your class format may focus on the policy, or theory behind the core concepts, but will almost always demonstrate its application to real-world situations. Furthermore, many instructors offer practical, real-life tips for applying what you’ve learned to real-life cases. Your work may include:
- Transaction-oriented skills like mock negotiations and drafting exercises
- Litigation-orientated training via a moot court, including arguing a motion and questioning a witness
- Litigation drafting exercises for jury instructions, pleadings, and motions
- How to take apart a case and break it down into facts, issue, precedent, rule, case holding, and application
- Statutory construction and legislative drafting exercises
What skills courses do you take during law school?
Students enroll in several skills-based courses that emphasize teamwork and practical training. In each class, it’s crucial to do more than memorize the material. Instead, law students must understand the policies that support the rules and apply their knowledge to various fact patterns. You’ll be expected to showcase your competence in doing this via written assignments, online exercises, and law school exams.
Torts are defined as civil wrongs done by one party to another. They include things like negligence and defamation, which are torts both accidental and on purpose. Personal injury law or tort law courses teach you about various civil suits. These may include intentional torts, negligence, medical malpractice, product liability, and personal injury claims.
During a torts course, you’ll explore situations like car accidents or food recalls. You’ll then determine whether a law requires compensation to a victim, whether it’s unintentionally or intentionally caused. Students also learn the differences between intentional, negligent, and strict liability torts.
A course on contracts provides the framework for consumer and commercial law. Often, a contract course looks closely at both the common law of contracts and the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Your instructor helps J.D. students navigate common problems or mistakes that affect agreements and legal outcomes. During your studies, you’ll learn:
- Principles of contracts, from entering to enforcing
- Purpose of legal agreements
- Differences between bargains and gifts
- Interpretation of legal terms
- Remedies for a breach of contract
A Contracts course provides invaluable information, even for those not practicing law, because contracts are so important to everyday life outside of being a lawyer.
A civil procedure course teaches you about the state and federal judicial system, including the powers of courts, the differences between federal and state courts, and the steps to bring civil lawsuits. For example, you’ll learn the trial rules, evidence gathering during discovery, preparing court filings such as pleadings, and how to appeal a decision.
An essential skill gained during this course is critical thinking. You must understand how the constitution limits the power of courts to hear cases while also comprehending how each phase of the case moves you towards resolution. Your instructor may use a combination of written assignments, exams, and simulations.
A property law course focuses on real property, like land and houses. You may also learn about who owns natural resources, and what happens to property when it is unclaimed. There are several areas of property law that you’ll cover, including:
- Freehold and non-freehold estates
- Personal property
- Landlord and tenant agreements
- Eminent domain
Property law courses prepare you for real life. You’ll learn about property transactions from mortgages to land purchase agreements and even foreclosures. Having this knowledge gives you an advantage as you navigate buying a house or other property.
This essential law school course focuses on the federal constitution and its amendments, including the Bill of Rights. You’ll learn about the roles — and limits — of the three branches of government (judicial, legislative, and executive) while exploring individual liberties and fundamental rights. A constitutional law course looks at how the constitution affects judicial processes as well, with a heavy emphasis on due process.
During this course, you will develop legal analysis skills and learn how to counter-argue even if it’s not a position you necessarily personally support.
Criminal law and procedure
In the Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure courses, you’ll explore the rules and procedures relevant to crimes, criminal charges, pretrial processes, and criminal trials. This in-depth look at criminal law and criminal procedure discusses the concepts of arrest, search, and seizure while explaining what defines a warrantless search or seizure of persons or automobiles. Students also cover topics like:
- Crimes like murder, robbery, and larceny, and how they are defined
- Fourth amendment surveillance issues
- Title III of the Crime Control Act
- Definitions of terms related to criminal law
- Exclusionary Rules and the Good Faith exception
- Sixth Amendment right to counsel
- Provisions of the Miranda Rule
- Due process
Along with learning the meanings of various topics, J.D. students also learn about the issues surrounding witness testimony, the production of documents, and post-trial procedures.
Moot court or mock trials
A moot court exercise may be part of any of your typical law school courses. With a moot court, you make arguments to a judge or panel of judges on a legal issue you are studying, using a simulated case file and legal research you have compiled and studied. You also answer questions from your peers. It differs from a mock trial that involves witness testimony in front of a jury; this is just legal arguments based on a set of agreed or supplied facts.
In both cases, your instructor provides a hypothetical situation. Then you’re in charge of writing a brief, conducting research, and presenting your oral case. You may be expected to practice other skills, such as witness preparation, as well.
Legal writing and research methods
A legal research and writing (LRW) course provides an in-depth look at standard techniques of legal research, and skills needed for writing such as legal analysis, finding case law, and constructing a legal argument. Legal writing, research, and communication are critical lawyering skills, so you can expect to complete plenty of course work in this area, which is likely to include:
- Appellate briefs
- Mock pleadings
- Drafting exercises
How do courses prepare you to pass the bar exam?
Of course, all of your law school courses provide the logical reasoning and analytical skills to set you up to pass the bar exam. Courses on legal subject matter, such a Contracts, teach you the law you will need to answer questions on the bar exam. However, many schools also include a course specifically to help you with this test. For example, St. Francis offers General Bar Prep I and II courses, so once you complete your J.D. program, you’ll have already begun preparing to sit for the California Bar Exam.
Explore law school courses at St. Francis
Are you ready to tackle traditional or online law school? Find out what to expect by reviewing documentation at your top schools and learning about the prerequisites needed for law school. Although all law schools use a different educational approach, law school develops a wide variety of skills that can help you move onto your career’s next stage.