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Law School Course Selection Advice

Students often ask me what courses I recommend they take. I have a list below, but first a few general points to keep in mind:

  1. Who teaches it is usually more important that what it is. Make sure to take courses from a variety of people and teaching styles. Keep an eye out for courses taught by visiting big name faculty. Also, make sure to have variety in each semester.
  2. Make a four-semester budget.  BEFORE you pick courses for your first semester second year, and also BEFORE you sign any contracts committing you to any multi-credit programs, make a list of all the classes you think you ought to take and add all the ones you want to take (probably there will be only some overlap), and then try parceling them out over four semesters.  This achieves two things: First, it lets you know if everything will fit or whether you need to rethink the overall plan.  Plus it ups the odds that you can balance each semester with a mix of types of courses, which likely makes it more interesting and livable.
    1. Eat your spinach every semester. There are a lot of basic courses that just about everyone ought to take.  Space them out (or, maybe, front-load them).  Don’t leave them all for your third year — or worse, your last semester!  You won’t be happy (and there are too many of them anyway).
    2. Only so much can fit in a suitcase.  If you are taking a high-credit course such as a clinic or Lit Skills, this puts more pressure on you to fill out the rest of your schedule with basics and required courses, and leaves less time for short courses and sexy-sounding adjunct-taught courses. I don’t recommend taking both a clinic and Lit Skills — one or the other can be great; both together chew up too many credits.  Similarly, if you are doing six credits of clinic, think hard before signing up for other time eaters like Moot Court.
    3. Even if you are filling your schedule with the essentials, be sure to take one “fun” course in each semester. Not only will it help you keep your sanity, but if it still seems fun after prolonged exposure, maybe you should consider a career in it? But if you are taking a year-long clinic, that counts as your fun course — and if you think it does not, you may not be happy in the clinic.
    4. Beware of the shiny things. We have an increasing number of short courses with exciting topics and often big-name practitioners and other visitors, some of whom may seem like great networking opportunities.  At their best these can be terrific classes. But….  Any short course worth taking will be a real grind, a great deal of work packed into a week or maybe two weeks.  Despite your best intentions your other classes will suffer while you do the short course.  If you have just one short course in your semester you can catch up on the other stuff.  But if you have more than one you are taking a risk. I have seen students sign up for three (!) short courses in one semester, reasoning that they can handle it since they now can take one fewer regular class. I don’t think that is right for most folks, but even if you are an exception, it’s almost certainly a bad idea, as it will rob you of one of the basic, likely less-exciting, courses that you really need to be a well-rounded lawyer.  Treat short courses like dessert or like a couple of shots, not like a main course.

Take (Most of) These. The list that follows is only intended as a set of basic default choices, not as a list of the most interesting courses in law school.  (And it isn’t! But you should still take all or most of them.) There are lots of fun and interesting seminars and advanced courses, and you should take some. I’d say that everyone who graduates from law school should take the courses on the basic list unless they have a good reason not to (such as a schedule conflict or an extraordinarily clear idea of what you plan to practice and why you therefore don’t need it) as they provide a good foundation for advanced courses, for practice, and introduce you to a wide variety of legal styles and materials.

Froomkin’s basic courses (in no particular order)

  • Administrative Law
  • Business Associations
  • Evidence
  • Federal Income Tax
  • One public international law (e.g. International law or International human rights or European Union Law)
  • One private international law (e.g. ‘IBT’ or International Finance)
  • Two (but not three) of these three classes
    • Civ Pro II
    • Federal Jurisdiction/Federal Courts
    • Conflicts of Law — I particularly recommend Prof. Oxman’s version of this
  • Professional Responsibility or Ethics
  • Substantive Criminal Law
  • One course that teaches the UCC (e.g. Commercial Law I or Secured Transactions)

Bonus suggestion for people interested in litigation

I was a litigator before entering teaching.  If you want to go into this, I strongly suggest you take Statistics for Lawyers unless you have a statistics or econometrics background from college. I know that a lot of students go to law school because they prefer words to numbers. But the reality is that numbers rule the world. If you don’t understand how a regression works, or understand what a big difference between a mean and a median tells you, then you will be lunch rather than having it. Take the course that will bring you up to speed — and give you an advantage over the people who didn’t.

Four more bar review or practice oriented courses that students often say are useful

  • Adv. Legal Research
  • Family Law
  • Intro. to Financial Accounting (especially useful for people who want to be transactional lawyers, or in-house counsel, but also good for some types of commercial litigation)
  • Trust & Estates

When picking courses in your second year, and even more so in the Fall semester of your second year, you should also keep in mind that certain courses are unofficial ‘gateway’ courses. If you are thinking seriously of a career in a particular area, it makes a great deal of sense to take the ‘gateway’ course as early as possible in order to give yourself more scope for (and choice among) the advanced courses in your area. Note that most advanced courses don’t officially have prerequisites…but there is a good chance that they will be easier, or that you might get much more out of them, if you have taken the foundational course first.

  • Administrative Law is the gateway to anything involving a regulated industry or a government agency. I’d include everything from Labor to SEC, from Communications to Environmental Law on that list. And Immigration too. It’s also important for people interested in corporate/transactional work (what company doesn’t have to deal with government regulations?) but it’s not a gateway for that — you can take it later in your second year, or in your third year, if you want to.
  • Business Associations is the gateway to most business/transactional law (Commercial Law I is also an important prerequisite to some business law, such as Bankruptcy).
  • Evidence is the gateway course to much litigation.
  • I think International Law, the basic course in public international law, remains the gateway to almost all international law, both public and private, but I know that some private international law scholars, and even some human rights lawyers,  might not agree.
  • Unsurprisingly, if you want to be a tax lawyer, you had better take the basic course, Federal Income Tax, as soon as you can.

(Mostly) Don’t take these.

  • I’m suspicious of externernships. The way externships work is you pay tuition to go work for free for a profit-making venture. And you burn a lot of (expensive) credits doing it. Plus the need to be off campus for a large block of time makes it hard to take the courses that best fit your interests and needs. That said, there is one circumstance in which an externship makes sense: you very much want to work for the company providing the externship after you graduate. In that scenario, the externship can be a way to get a foot in the door (and also a way to see if the place is as good as it sounds). Otherwise, don’t do it. You have the whole of the rest of your life to work; this is your chance to broaden yourself –make the most of it!
  • Unless you are doing very poorly in law school — say, the bottom 10% of the class — I really don’t advise you to take the review courses that are designed to prepare you for the bar exam. Instead commit yourself to taking a commercial bar review course and taking it very seriously. If you study nine hours a day, six days a week, odds are you will pass. Thus, why use up your limited supply of (expensive!) course credits on stuff you will learn anyway? Instead learn something new. In the long run it will be much more valuable.

Last modified: March 16, 2022

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