Selecting Courses After Your First Year of Law School
Congratulations, first-year law students, you’re on the cusp of finishing your 1L year! You’ve successfully navigated vast quantities of statutes and case law, case briefing, legal writing and research, outlining, and cumulative exams with extensive (and sometimes inane) fact patterns. And hopefully, you’ve managed your stress, kept your caffeine intake to a minimum, eaten well, and stayed active. Now, what should you do in the next two years?
Or, better yet, what should you take in the next two years? All law schools offer a broad range of law classes, and upper-level course selection can be daunting. From Secured Transactions to Mergers & Acquisitions, from International Law to Municipal Law, and wanting to learn about new fields like Cannabis Law and Fintech Law, a shortage of options is not an issue. And what if you are a blank slate, not knowing what you’d like to do with your law degree or what area you’d like to practice?
First of all, take a deep breath. Enjoy what you’ve accomplished so far and continue working hard through the remainder of this semester. Second, take comfort knowing that your future employer likely does not expect you to specialize or “major” in any one area of the law (unless you’ve worked at the firm previously and there is some expectation or guarantee that you’ll be working in a specific practice group this upcoming summer). In fact, an employer will appreciate having a well-rounded individual who has explored options before deciding on a certain career path. So, as you begin selecting your upper-level courses, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
- See the world. Take as many classes as you can in varying areas of the law and find out what really interests you. You do not want to predetermine a career in, for example, litigation when your interest actually lies in transactional work.
- Get some practical experience. Experiential courses like law clinics, mock trial/moot court, trial advocacy, and internships/externships that you can take for credit will give you a taste of what you’ll be doing as an attorney. Employers appreciate seeing real-world experience on a resume.
- Check all the boxes for obtaining your J.D. Your law school might have required courses beyond those taken as a 1L—including Administrative Law, Evidence, and/or Professional Responsibility—and you don’t want to discover in your last semester that you’ve overlooked a class you need in order to graduate.
- Prepare for the bar exam. The importance of bar prep cannot be overstated, and you would be remiss if you do not take a healthy dose of classes and subjects that will be tested on your jurisdiction’s bar exam. Be sure to check the bar exam of the state in which you intend to practice and take as many of those classes as possible. But if you can’t take them all, that’s fine. You simply may have to spend more time on those topics during your bar review course.
- Be aware of pre- and co-requisites. Some classes you want to take—or need to take for future employment—may require that you’ve already completed or are in the process of completing certain other classes. These may include having the foundation of Business Associations for a more advanced class like International Business Transactions or needing Patent Law in order to take the more complex Intellectual Property Licensing.
- Look into interdisciplinary possibilities. If your law school sits on a campus that also has a business school, inquire about taking classes there—and see if the credits will transfer as well. Maybe a partnership between schools and programs already exists. Similarly, if your interest in the law overlaps with, say, engineering or political science, and you don’t mind the possibility of spending another year in school, check out what dual degree programs your school might offer. For one more year, you could add a master’s degree to your resume and increase your value to an employer.
- Talk to people who have been in your shoes. As with most things, it can be extremely helpful to confer with others—especially those who have been through law school—to get their insights on course selection. High on this list are, certainly, professors and recent graduates, but also seek input from mentors and current practitioners to determine what classes they recommend and found most helpful.
There are a lot of career paths and opportunities in the legal field, and just as many (if not more) courses to choose from in law school. Enjoy your law school experience, but also be sure to take course selection seriously and make educated decisions so that you may realize your aspirations of finding a job, passing the bar exam, and practicing law.