Office of the Law School Registrar:
Course Selection Advice Fall 2000/ Spring 2001
As with many (most?) other questions one encounters in law school, the question
of what courses to take is one to which there is no single, "correct"
answer. What has worked for others won't necessarily work for you. Still,
it never hurts to ask -- and in fact, we've done just that, on your behalf.
Here's what various people have said:
Professor Jane Aiken - The practice of law often lacks intellectual
stimulation. Take advantage of the short time you are in an academic environment.
Choose some courses just because they interest you even if (maybe especially
if) you don't think you will ever practice in that area.
Professor / Associate Dean David M. Becker - Some people come
to law school committed to do specific things with their life that require
concentrated knowledge. For example, someone who knows that he or she
is destined to be a tax lawyer must obviously take all of the tax offerings
and, therefore, must give these courses the highest priority. Very few
people, however, fall into this category. The next priority might consist
of courses most every one should have. I always keep this list very short.
Although there might be disagreement among faculty members, my list would
include: evidence, administrative law, corporations, tax (one course),
and maybe a planning and drafting course. Essentially, these courses add
up to one semester's worth of time. My last priority--one that applies
to seventy-five per cent of a student's elective curriculum and one that
should really be the highest priority for nearly all students--is a simple
one. Take those courses that "turn you on" to learning and,
therefore, will produce the very best kind of student experience. This
could be a function of subject matter. For me, however, it was always
a reflection of the teacher. Karl Llewellyn had told me to select courses
by teacher; nevertheless, I did not act on his advice until my senior
year in law school. Somehow I was certain that I would dislike a tax course,
but I also knew that I had to have at least one such course because of
the work I was going to do after graduation. So I put off tax until the
fall quarter of my third year; consequently, I began the year with a course
on Federal Income Tax. One month later I knew that I was having my best
time in law school. As a result, I took every course that teacher offered
over the remaining two quarters -- two tax courses and one course on bankruptcy
and reorganization. It was the best decision I made while in law school.
Janet Bolin, Assistant Dean for Admissions & Financial Aid
- I would strongly advise taking a transactional class to develop your
planning and drafting skills instead of relying exclusively on a future
employer to provide this type of experience.
Suzanne Brown, Class of 1996; Partner, Brown & Wichmer; Founder,
The Immigration Project - Several students have called me recently
to ask what they should take if they are interested in Immigration Law.
I tell them to take what sounds good; that they will learn the "practice"
of Immigration Law (or anything else) at work, and that the best plan
of action for those interested in immigration is to go to work or volunteer
at an agency serving the needs of immigrants in any capacity - get to
know their lives, their needs, etc.
Professor Rebecca Dresser - The more writing experience you can
get in courses, the better.
Professor Barbara Flagg - My advice is to choose courses by professor.
Ask other students, but ask several, and know something about the person
making the recommendation.
Professor / Associate Dean Katherine Goldwasser - At the risk
of sounding completely crazy (a risk that's never bothered me much), my
advice about choosing courses is to take the ones that you're most
likely to enjoy. Students sometimes assume that the most to be hoped
for from a law school class is that it will be "useful" or "beneficial"
in some way, but that "fun" is out of the question. I think
that's a serious mistake. Granted, you may end up miserable anyway (it's
been known to happen), but your chances increase dramatically if you proceed
from the premise that misery is inevitable. Under my suggested approach,
taking a course because you think the professor is fabulous, or because
the subject matter has always fascinated you, or because the "word
on the street" is that the course is great are all good reasons;
taking one because you've been told that everyone should, or because of
the kind of exam the teacher gives, are not.
Nancy Hammer, Class of 1991; Director of International Division, National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Washington, D.C. - I suggest
that second year students take a wide range of courses that interest them.
Don't take all courses within one discipline or one type of law because
you never know what might spark your interest or take you in a different
Dee Joyce-Hayes, Circuit Attorney, City of St. Louis - Even if
you are absolutely convinced that you know what kind of law you want to
practice after graduation, don't "pigeonhole" yourself in law
school. The more well-rounded your legal education is, the better lawyer
you'll be. For example--and I know I'm biased--I totally believe that
every law student should take trial practice courses. Even if the closest
you ever want to get to a court room is watching "Law and Order"
reruns, you'll be smarter, tougher, better organized, more analytical,
and far more self-confident when you develop and know how to use the skills
that litigation training teaches you.
Greg Hewett, Class of 1994; Associate, Bryan Cave LLP - Enroll
for classes that you want to take for your own reasons and do not get
too caught up in what courses you "ought" to take for the bar
exam, prospective employers or anyone else. The bar review class will
teach you what you need to know for the bar exam (which is as much about
test taking skills as your knowledge of substantive law). Similarly, your
employer will give you the opportunity to learn, although often under
fire, what you need to know in practice. Consequently, I have no regrets
for having made my class schedules based on whether I enjoyed classes
with the particular professor, whether the class was scheduled at a time
that would interfere with work or extracurricular activities, and whether
the subject matter interested me. I am, however, most grateful for the
courses that exposed me to new experiences and ways of thinking. First-year
courses and certain survey courses such as Administrative Law and Labor
Law taught basic legal analysis and provided a useful grounding in the
subject matter. Other courses such as criminal procedure taught the invaluable
skill of reconciling and applying leading cases to fact patterns in gray
areas. Courses in tax and environmental law taught the skills crucial
to integrating statutes, regulations and administrative pronouncements
to reach a conclusion. Other courses such as pre-trial, trial and the
reorganization seminar provided valuable insights into the practical application
of the law. Practicum courses such as the judicial internship also provided
a fantastic opportunity for learning from practicing lawyers. Take advantage
of the variety of classes offered and do not hesitate to take a class
that, for whatever reason, appeals to you.
Former Professor Brad Joondeph- For me, the single most important
factor in course selection is the instructor. Exceptional teachers can
make virtually any subject interesting. It was only after I took income
tax from a terrific professor that I became interested in the area; otherwise
I might never have discovered the subject. And in making decisions about
instructors, I would go beyond just those who seem to be popular with
students. Many teachers whom I thought were fantastic were not necessarily
those adored by a large percentage of my classmates. Teaching style involves
personal taste. A second, less important factor is the goal of expanding
the breadth of your knowledge generally, especially into areas that might
not be directly relevant to the area of law you plan to pursue in your
career. Law school will likely be your last opportunity to gain a broad-based
exposure to different aspects of the law. Once you have entered practice,
you will only have time to keep up with the developments in your particular
field. Yet the insights you gain from a broader education - a more holistic
perspective on the law - will be invaluable to perceiving and analyzing
problems in a manner quite different from attorneys who have focused more
myopically on a narrow field. Moreover, accepting the challenge of learning
material outside your "natural" areas of interest can be extremely
rewarding, both in the sense of accomplishment and in potentially opening
new avenues for your career (as it did for me). Finally, follow your instincts
and take courses that excite you. You are not going to learn much from
a class in which you are not intellectually engaged. Your enjoyment will
be the most significant determinant of how much you learn.
Professor / Associate Dean Daniel Keating - Remember that law
school is the last opportunity that you will have to learn an entire area
of the law without the pressure to respond to the narrow problem of a
particular client. Consider your upperclass years as an opportunity to
sample different areas of law, even those that might not seem appealing
to you on the surface. For that reason, I would advise that you try taking
a variety of courses from the curriculum rather than attempting to specialize
toward one field. Don't take a course just because it's on the bar. The
bar-exam courses will prepare you sufficiently even for subjects that
you have never taken.
Professor Daniel R. Mandelker - Study the law! By the law I mean
cases, statutes, regulations and books and articles about these sources.
That's why you're here!
Tomea Mayer, Class of 1991; Director of Career Services - Law
school teaches you how to learn; don't expect to graduate with all of
the substantive knowledge you need for your career. I think it is important
to choose classes which give you a broad base of knowledge and plenty
of training in analyzing complex factual and statutory problems. For example,
Immigration Law is the best class I ever took for truly complex statutory
and regulatory interpretation; the skill is applicable to many substantive
areas. Having said that, I also believe that every law student should
take Evidence and Tax; people expect you to know those things . . . it's
pretty embarrassing when you can't explain to your friends what is going
on in Law and Order or when your accountant can't walk you through your
tax returns. Finally, don't worry about taking classes just for the bar
exam; bar review will teach you all you need to know about a topic to
pass the bar; think about what you want to know for after the bar.
Professor Chuck McManis - My advice is as follows: 1)Take professors,
not courses; 2) Choose courses more for the legal skills you will develop
than for the subject matter of the course (My own unscientific experience
as a law clerk convinced me that the net significance of having had, as
opposed to not having had, a course in a particular subject was gaining
about 20 minutes in lead time in doing research); and 3) Take courses
that you think will stimulate your imagination, deepen your understanding
of or commitment to a particular career track, or broaden your perspective
on the legal system or life in general. Three bad reasons for taking a
1) It's on the bar exam (the hardest part of the bar exam is the multistate,
and all but one of the subjects on the multistate are covered in the first
year; the toughest thing about the essay questions is figuring out whether
a given question is actually a trust and estates question or is in reality
the professional responsibility question); 2) It's an essential course
for general practice (in reality, there is almost no such thing as "general
practice;" you will probably become more specialized than you could
possibly imagine, and in an area you never thought you were interested
in at all); and 3) Everyone else is taking it (what do they know?).
Adjunct Professor Miriam Miquelon, Associate United States Attorney
for the Southern District of Illinois - Law school is a luxury. It
will be your last opportunity to "learn the law at your leisure."
Once in practice you will have little time to learn new principles. Instead,
you must begin the process of integrating legal ideas into your case in
order to present your client's legal position to the court. The more you
learn about legal principles in law school, the better you will be at
identifying the issues that are important to your client and to the court.
My advice is to take courses in procedural and substantive law that will
provide you with the tools to follow your chosen specialty or area of
Allison P. Schreiber, Class of 1996; Assistant Circuit Attorney, City
of St. Louis - First of all try to get in a diverse assortment of
classes to cover the subjects that are on the bar exam. You don't need
to have taken everything on the bar in law school, but it helps to have
some familiarity with the material covered on the bar. I would also take
things that you think might be interesting, even if you think you already
know what you want to do after law school. I never even considered criminal
law as a career, but I took some criminal procedure classes in law school,
and liked it so much I did some criminal law internships, and now I practice
in the field!
Mark Smith, Class of 1986; Associate Dean for Student Services
- I think there are certain core courses every law student should take.
They are: Tax (everything has tax ramifications); Corporations (it's the
major legal fiction); and Evidence. I also think it is nice to have taken
some of the Bar courses, like Con. Law, Trusts and Estates and UCC-3&4.
I was really glad that I had taken a number of substantive overview courses
- things like Bankruptcy or Labor Law - because when I had an issue in
the area, I at least had a framework with which to start.
Serena Yee, Director of External Affairs & Law Student - Your
second year is a good time to explore. Don't feel you must select a particular
field to specialize in. Take a variety of courses that you have an interest
in. Even if you think you know what field you want to practice in don't
prematurely limit yourself to a narrow course of study; rather, investigate
other courses as a way to make an informed decision. Don't overlook courses
simply because they appear unrelated to your future career plans. Remember
that all courses will serve to complement your overall legal education.