legal education: an overview
Today, in nearly all states, completion of a degree program at an accredited law school is required for admission to practice as a lawyer. It normally takes three years of full time work to receive a law degree. Unlike the case in nearly all other countries of the world this required degree program must follow a basic four year college or university degree. In the United States there are 175 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. Most states do not accept bar applications from graduates of law schools not on that list.
First Year (1L)
In the first year of law school, students generally are required to take broad introductory topics. The basic courses for the first year of law school provide an introductory foundation to both substantive and procedural topics and typically include:
A basic understanding of constitutional law and issues surrounding interpretation as well as issues related to subject categories such as federalism.
Several Areas of Substantive Law
A basic foundation in the four common law areas that historically make up important substantive law topics of each state:
property (including real property)
Federal Procedural Law
A basic course in federal civil procedure.
A basic course in legal writing, research, and basic oral advocacy.
Second and Third year (2L,3L)
The second and third years of law school allow a student to take courses that further explain topics introduced in the first year curriculum and to concentrate on particular areas of the law such as business, labor and employment, litigation, international, or family law. A number of courses may still be recommended or required such as federal income taxation, corporations, commercial law, and professional ethics. Courses which expand upon topics covered in the first year include evidence and conflicts of law which expand upon topics covered in civil procedure, administrative law which contains a further discussion of ideas presented in constitutional law, criminal procedure which provides an understanding of the federal procedure used for federal criminal cases, estates and trusts which covers ideas tangentially presented in first-year property courses. In addition, the second and third years often provide the student with the chance to get some legal experience through legal aid clinics and internships. Many students volunteer for public interest organizations while completing their coursework.
Law students usually participate in extra-curricular activities that provide them with further useful experience. Law reviews are legal academic journals edited and in part written by students. Membership in law review is usually granted on the basis of first year grades or a writing competition. Moot Court provides students with the opportunity to compete with one another by giving mock oral arguments before a panel of judges.
Law school teaching tends to be far more interactive than is common in undergraduate education, despite large classes. In the classic "Socratic Method", the law professor asks a student a series of questions about assigned cases.