Course Descriptions

All students are trained to think and solve problems as lawyers from the first day of law school. Their instruction in basic lawyering skills and professional values serves as the foundation for the Trial and Advocacy Program’s elective courses and competitions.   You can find more information on each course in the current School of Law Course Directory

First-Year Curriculum

In their first year, law students at Washington University learn how to analyze facts of cases and reason as lawyers through foundational courses in several areas of the law. 

They also take the year-long course, Legal Practice I: Objective Analysis and Reasoning. The writing portion supports students as they develop skills in legal analysis and reasoning and in effective written and oral communication. In the research part of the course, students learn the art of locating, evaluating, and using the texts that form the core of legal literature and the subject of legal analysis. Students assume the role of lawyer as they approach client problems for their research and writing assignments. Using the primary legal sources (cases, statutes, regulations), they locate and apply the appropriate rules to master the issues involved. 

Six full-time faculty members exclusively teach Legal Practice I: Objective Analysis and Reasoning. Students also work with six professional librarians with more than 60 years of combined experience in legal research. 

Meeting twice a week in small groups, students discuss recent writing projects with their writing instructor. They also receive detailed, written feedback on their individual writing assignments.

Pretrial and Trial Advocacy Basic Courses

Almost every second-year student takes Evidence, which serves as a prerequisite for several lawyering skills and clinical courses. In this class, they learn what is and is not permitted at trial, how to make and meet objections, how to make offers of proof, and how to request and receive advance rulings from the court on the admissibility of evidence.

Armed with skills in legal writing, research, case analysis, and evidence, nearly threequarters of our students elect to take Pretrial, usually in the second year. Students in this class focus on developing the skills necessary for effective client representation at the pretrial stage of litigation—from initial interview through settlement negotiations. Drafting and in-class simulation exercises are centered around problems based on real cases. In addition to practicing such traditional litigation skills as drafting pleadings, arguing motions, and taking depositions, students also explore ethical and policy issues surrounding the lawyer’s role in resolving disputes and the use of various forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Students work with full-time and adjunct faculty in small groups no larger than a 12:1 student-faculty ratio.

Students may continue a more in-depth study of ADR mechanisms by taking ADR Theory & Practice, Mediation Theory & Practice, or Negotiation Theory & Practice. They also discuss how these processes interface with arbitration, as well as the hybrid processes of ombudsmen, arbitration, mini-trial, and private and court-sponsored ADR. Students participate both in in-class discussions and demonstrations and in out-of-class simulations in small classes with no more than a 16:1 studentfaculty ratio.

Nearly half of the student body goes on to study the trial phase from the perspective of a practicing attorney through Trial Practice & Procedure. In the first several weeks of this course, students learn and perform various aspects of the trial of a lawsuit, including the development of a theory and theme, jury selection, opening statement, direct and cross-examination of lay witnesses and experts, the use and introduction of real and demonstrative evidence, and closing argument.  Toward the end of the semester, students prepare for and conduct two complete trials to verdict. Students do simulations with faculty in small groups with no more than an 8:1 student-faculty ratio; all simulations are videotaped and critiqued by faculty.

Advanced Litigation and Appellate Advocacy Courses

Students interested in more advanced litigation training often take Advanced Trial Advocacy. Designed for students who intend to be litigators, this course further develops the skills learned in the basic Trial Practice & Procedure course and teaches new trial skills, including the use of the latest courtroom technology. The course, which focuses on techniques used in federal courts, uses actual case and investigative materials from federal cases. In addition to weekly simulations, each student conducts two full trials. This course has a 6:1 student-faculty ratio. 

Another course, Advanced Practical Criminal Procedure, covers topics such as initial interviews of clients and victims, grand jury proceedings, preliminary hearings, discovery, pretrial motions and hearings, plea bargaining, voir dire, expert witnesses, jury instructions, sentencing, and post-conviction proceedings. For each topic, there are assigned readings and practice exercises. Most classes also involve prominent prosecutors or defense attorneys as guest lecturers, who often participate in demonstrations and critiques of student simulations. The course has a 12:1 student-faculty ratio.

In addition to these courses, there are also practice courses in Civil Rights Litigation Theory & PracticeIntellectual Property LitigationMedia LitigationSecurities Law Litigation & Arbitration, Jury Instructions & the Trial Process, Appellate Advocacy Seminar, Appellate Advocacy, and International Tribunals Practice & Procedure. Each of these practice courses blends theory and practice using the problem-solving approach and simulations where students act in the role of lawyers.

Other Applied Lawyering Skills Courses

Students also choose from applied lawyering skills courses that focus on problem solving in the context of planning and drafting. In these courses, they learn from experienced practitioners how to perfect the skills necessary to draft critical legal documents, strategize legal positions, and solve client problems. Each course focuses on cutting-edge issues, and several of them deal with emerging areas where graduates will go on to break new legal ground.

Applied Ethics Courses

An array of ethics courses focuses on professional responsibility issues pertaining to different practice areas.  Courses include Practical Ethics for Civil Litigation, Ethics of Lawyering in GovernmentLawyers & Justice: Ethics in Public Interest Lawyering, and Litigation Ethics. In addition, the School offers the basic ethics course, Legal Profession, as well as Lawyers & Ethics in Film, Comparative Ethics: Law & Medicine, and Legal Ethics Seminar