Classes to Take to Become a Lawyer: Law School Curriculum Overview

There are many different areas of law, and institutions generally offer programs in their own specialties. Read on to explore some basic and elective courses found in law school programs.

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Essential Information

A Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree is the educational requirement for becoming a lawyer in the United States and requires approximately three years of graduate study to finish. The American Bar Association (ABA) is the accreditation agency for law school programs, and such accreditation is required in most states. Depending on the school they attend, students may choose a particular emphasis in which they wish to practice law, such as environmental law, criminal law, intellectual property, civil litigation or corporate law.

Most students in a law school program take basic courses in their first year to introduce them to legal reasoning, case analysis and legal institutions. This involves learning the principles of criminal law, basic constitutional law, environmental law and civil litigation. Other topics studied early in a J.D. program include torts, contracts, property law, legal writing and research. The last two years of a J.D program include concentration coursework if a concentration is chosen. Students may also take elective courses in other fields of study.

J.D. programs also include activities outside of core and concentration coursework, including seminars, research projects, mock trials and externships. Graduates take the bar exams required to get state licensure for practicing law, and they have to keep up with developments in the legal field through periodic continuing education coursework.

Overview of Lawyer Courses

Common J.D. degree program courses are described in detail below.

Criminal Law Course

This course considers the general themes and principles of criminal law. Coursework addresses the concepts of criminal intent, causation, action, result and justification. Specific cases are presented, usually on the topics of insanity, defense, conspiracy and the legal treatment of rape and homicide. Major problems and questions in criminal law are explored, including moral judgment, psychological impairment, blameworthiness and punishment.

Basic Constitutional Law Course

This course provides a foundation for public law and specialized constitutional law courses. Students learn about the formation and theory of the U.S. Constitution, its history and amendments during the past 200 years and its political and legal significance. Also covered are limits on state authority, separation of powers, the role of the judiciary as the guardian of constitutional rights and the concept of checks and balances in the U.S. government.

Civil Litigation Procedure Course

Students are introduced to the federal rules of civil process and procedure from the initiation of a lawsuit through to court judgment. Certain recurring problems in civil actions are studied, along with the history of civil actions in the United States. Rules of evidence and enforcement of state and federal guidelines in civil courts are examined.

Environmental Law Course

Students learn about different strategies that may be used to implement governmental regulation for environmental protection. Specific laws studied include the Superfund and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The course also addresses common law, information-based strategies, environmental impact statements, marketable permits and emission taxes as mechanisms for environmental protection. Legislation, such as land use regulation, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act may also be covered, in addition to laws on climate change.

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