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Law School Classes Part 1: the Nuts and Bolts of 1L

Law School Classes Part 1: The Nuts and Bolts of 1L. Dixie drops knowledge about the ins and outs of Civil Procedure and Criminal Law.

There is a good chance that if you are reading this and waiting on those final admission decisions, you still don’t know exactly what you are getting yourself into. You have vague dreams of a corner office and using the phrase “your honor”, but are not quite sure what the years between now and then are going to look like. I feel your pain. Last summer, when MSS decided that I should start as their 1L blogger well before I actually started law school, I wrote about fifteen blogs about how I had no idea what to expect. Things got messy. There were metaphors. It was a dark time.

Luckily, I have made it my quest to give potential students all the information they could possibly want as they decide the wheres, whens and ifs about attending law school. To that end, this week and next I bring you a two part series (because two parts = twice the money for the same amount of work) about what classes you will take as a 1L. Much like middle schoolers, first year law school students are not allowed to actually pick their own classes. Instead, the classes are assigned, and the subjects are pretty uniform from school to school. There are some exceptions (my favorite fake law school comes to mind), but these are the six classes that are pretty likely to make an appearance in your life over the next twelve months. So sit back and enjoy.

Civil Procedure

In this aptly named course, (which all the cool kids call CivPro) you can expect to learn the procedure to file and bring a civil lawsuit through the court system. Which, for most students, is about as exciting as it sounds. However, there are two pluses about this class:

1) I had a fellow student once remark that using the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (which is basically the class Bible) is kind of like playing logic games. In the same way that a LSAT taker playing a game needs to remember that every time Millicent and Thaddeus take a lovers tryst to Quebec, Whoopi has to tag along and regulate, certain federal procedure rules automatically trigger other ones. It’s like one huge transitive argument, minus the sweet method to keep all the rules straight. And the courts keep butting in to make every rule more complicated than it seems. Also, this game has higher stakes than the LSAT (believe it or not) and instead of having to remember everything for 8.5 minutes, you’ll use it for the rest of your life. But besides that, it’s pretty much exactly the same.

2) This is also the course where you are going to get the most fodder for making really douche-y statements to impress other idiots. For example, after this course you’ll be able to chat with your friends at bars and say things like, “Well, keep in mind, under Rule 14(a)(2)(B), the defendant must follow Rule 13 with respect to counterclaims against a third party plaintiff. And, just to remind you, Rule 13(a) governs any claim that arises out of the same transaction or occurrence as the original claim and does not involve adding another party over whom the court cannot gain jurisdiction.” Then you can all readjust your Windsor knots, congratulate each other on being so intelligent, and go home to watch adult videos alone.

Criminal Law

Crim Law is the course that students are somewhat ashamed to love. Let’s face it, deep down, we all came to law school because Stabler and Benson are badass (and we are refusing to notice that neither of those characters have or need a JD). And that sordid interest in all things violent and repulsive does not disappear just because someone is working to earn a really expensive piece of paper. Crim Law is the one class that everyone has expectations about beforehand, and it doesn’t disappoint.

For starters, Criminal Law is a content course (criminal procedure is taught in different classes), so you don’t have to get bogged down in many nit-picky rules. Also, state laws largely govern criminal law. Once you actually go to law school, the hows and whys of this statement will be much clearer, but this pretty much means there is nothing to actually learn. Since law school does not prepare you to practice law in any given state, and students are not expected to learn 50+ different penal codes, once you figure out a few key vocab terms (soon you’ll be able to talk about mens rea just like Elle!), it becomes a lower-stress class than most.

It’s not all butterflies and roses, though. First off, the vast majority of cases are actually all about jury instructions. So although the facts of the case are more interesting than those of other classes, the actual legal part can get pretty dry. Secondly, some of the details of these cases can get pretty rough. I don’t think there will ever be a discussion even tangentially relating to violent rape that doesn’t make at least a few stomachs queasy. On those days, the discomfort level far supersedes the interest level, and the smart kids just hang out in the library to avoid it.


Torts is awesome for two reasons. Most importantly, it is the one area of law that ANY lawyer knows about (seriously, even if they got their JD from Sally Struthers), but no one else does. If you are a law student, half your friends and family probably think you are studying desserts for three classes a week. Which means that learning the definition of tort is pretty much the first indication you are officially part of this old boys’ club we call the legal world. The second is when you start working 100 hours a week to pay off your debt. The third is when you die miserable and alone.

The other reason torts is awesome is that tort cases are all about unintentional accidents. So it has the interest level of criminal law, but without any of the guilt. It’s the Lean Cuisine of law school (unless, like me, you just end up eating seven Lean Cuisines in a row. And then ordering pizza. But I digress). Once upon a time I even wrote a blog that included interesting quotes from court cases, and nearly every one of those cases were from my Tort class. Why? Because people are crazy, and sue each other for crazy reasons, and this leads to crazy quotes in crazy cases. It’s crazy.

So there you have it. CivPro, Criminal Law and Torts are three of the six big ones, and have been grouped together for no particular reason. Regardless, you know a little more about what to expect, so keep thinking about those big decisions you’ll be making in the next month and a half. Then, be sure to tune in next week for part two in which I will discuss ***!!!Constitutional Law!!!*** and some other crap courses nobody cares about.