Are you wondering what you learn in your first year of law school?  I remember receiving my law school schedule in the mail and seeing the word “Civil Procedure” and thinking, what is “Civil Procedure”?  If you are as non-legal oriented and clueless as I was when I started law school, this post will provide you with some guidance. 

Below will lay out the foundation for what you will learn during your first year of law school.  Know that different schools have different curriculums.  You will most likely take every course mentioned below during your first year, but it typically varies by school whether you take the class during your first semester or during your second semester. 

What You Learn in . . . Civil Procedure

Walking into Civil Procedure with the required rulebook in hand, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.  Call me stupid, I do not think I even knew what a “civil” lawsuit was.  If you are wondering the same thing, a civil law suit is one that is not criminal.  A great definition, huh?  

Maybe a few examples can help explain what a civil lawsuit actually is.  Let’s say that a business manufactures airplane parts.  When in flight, a plane that contained one of the manufacturer’s parts crashes.  Let’s say that everyone on the airplane dies.  Let’s hypothetically say that the families of the deceased bring a lawsuit against the plane company for wrongful death.  Then, the plane company sues the part manufacturer for breach of implied warranty of merchantability.  Both the families’ and the plane company’s claims would be governed by the rules of civil procedure.  

The hypothetical provided above is similar to one of the most well-known civil procedure cases you will likely read during you civil procedure course.  The name of the case is Piper Aircraft Company v. ReynoCivil procedure is different from many other courses because it is heavily rule-based.  In many courses, you will only have a casebook with maybe a small supplement. In civil procedure, you will likely have a rulebook (which should be your primary study guide), and this rulebook will be supplemented by a casebook.  While your professor may assign readings only from the casebook, it is critical to your success that you use the rulebook as your primary guide. 

What You Learn in . . . Constitutional Law

When people think of law school courses, constitutional law is probably a course that comes to mind.  In fact, you will most likely take two required constitutional law courses.  The subject matter of your constitutional law courses will likely differ based on your school’s curriculum, however, it is likely that at least one of your courses will heavily focus on the First Amendment.  

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  In your constitutional law course, you will learn the different levels of scrutiny the court applies to different constitutional challenges.  A central focus of this course deals with free speech and advertising. 

What You Learn in . . . Contracts

One common misperception is that contract law is only for people who want to go into business or corporate law.  Did you know that many criminal lawyers deal with contracts on a daily basis?  For example, criminal lawyers constantly are forming plea bargains, and this involves a type of contract.  Contract law plays an integral part in our everyday lives. 

You probably sign contracts everyday, or at least sign something that would be governed by contract law.  For example, every time you sign a receipt at the grocery store, this likely is governed by contract law.  Contract law will teach you what is required to form a contract and the remedies available for when a contract is breached. 

What You Learn in . . . Criminal Law

Have you seen the television show Law & Order?  How about CSI: Miami?  Welcome to criminal law.  Criminal law will likely be one of the more familiar courses that you take in law school.  In your criminal law course, you will get to read fascinating cases that will likely keep your attention even if you do not want to be a criminal attorney.  While many television shows are about fact-finding, in law school you will learn the elements to different crimes and learn what individuals can be charged for based on the acts they have committed. 

What You Learn in . . . Property

Property law is a fundamental law school course.  Like constitutional law, you will likely take two property courses while in law school.  There are many different types of property governed by different laws that all fall under the umbrella of “property law.”  For example, in your first year, you will likely learn about estates and adverse possession.  In subsequent years you will likely learn about easements and licenses.  In your third year, you will likely take a course in wills and trusts.  Property law is a fundamental subject in law school and applies to our everyday lives!

What You Learn in . . . Torts

Torts is another one of those courses like civil procedure where I had no clue what a “tort” was going into class.  I soon learned that a tort is a wrongful act that results in civil liability.  It makes sense that I did not know about torts or civil procedure because they are siblings.  In order to file a tort cause of action, you will have to know civil procedure.  Likewise, in order to obtain relief/damages for a tort, you have to know the rules of civil procedure

In law school, you will most likely take two torts classes.  While the first torts class will likely be titled “Torts I,” sometimes the second torts course is called “Products Liability.”  Torts was one of my favorite classes in law school, maybe because I didn’t know anything about torts prior to going to law school.  How often do you hear that someone has been charged with battery or assault?  Not that often, at least in my neighborhood.  

On a regular basis, for example on the news, we hear about criminal activity.  It is rare that you hear someone being sued for a tort, even though it happens quite frequently.  Under tort law, unlike under criminal law, the wrongdoer will pay damages for his or her wrongdoing or the individual will be ordered by the court to do or refrain from doing something. 

In order to succeed in these courses, I would recommend checking out “How to Write a Good Law School Exam Answer.”

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