Civil Litigation Curriculum
Clients hire lawyers to assist in the resolution of disputes. In the American legal system, civil disputes are resolved chiefly through the process of civil litigation. All law students at the University of Richmond School of Law receive an introduction to basic litigation practices in their first year, and have the opportunity to take many more litigation classes in their second and third years. What follows is a description of our civil litigation curriculum, many parts of which students will find useful regardless of their particular career goals.
The foundational course in litigation is Civil Procedure, which all students take during the fall of their first year. The class provides students with fundamental knowledge about the litigation process, including which courts hear which disputes, how to initiate a lawsuit, how to develop the facts of a case, and how to obtain judgment before trial. In addition to Civil Procedure, students also take Law Skills I in the fall and Law Skills II in the spring of their first year. These courses provide students with instruction in legal writing and analysis, an essential skill for any litigator. These classes are followed by Law Skills III and Law Skills IV, which students take in their second year to gain knowledge about trial and appellate practice.
After completing the first-year curriculum, students with a particular interest in litigation should take additional classes to deepen their knowledge of the topic. These classes fall into two categories. The first category consists of classes that are trans-substantive—that is, classes that address the process of litigation without regard to the substance of the legal dispute. Evidence, for example, introduces students to the nature and quantity of proof that parties may submit. Evidence is only offered in the fall semester, and nearly all students take this course during the fall of their second year. Complex Litigation deals with the specialized procedures for multi-party litigation, such as mass torts. Conflict of Laws explores the appropriate law in lawsuits that involve interstate acts or parties. Federal Courts addresses the specific authority of federal courts to resolve civil disputes. Virginia Procedure provides students with a detailed portrait of the Virginia legal system. Remedies explores the relief that courts may dispense to winning litigants. Admiralty Law addresses forms of action and procedures unique to certain civil cases reserved for federal courts by the Constitution. Ethics in Civil Litigation and Professional Responsibility cover the complicated ethical choices that routinely arise in civil litigation. Administrative Law introduces students to the parameters of agency adjudication and judicial review of agency action. Alternative Dispute Resolution and Collaborative Law introduce students to non-judicial methods of resolving disputes, such as arbitration and mediation.
Additionally, many trans-substantive classes are valuable for their focus on the specific skills of lawyering. For example, Interviewing and Counseling trains students to successfully work with clients. Similarly, Negotiation offers students training in the art of negotiating with opposing counsel or parties. Students interested in litigation should also consider Advanced Legal Research, which sharpens students’ skills in the important task of legal research, and Advanced Trial Practice, which readies students for courtroom practice.
In addition to the classes listed above, students interested in becoming litigators should also focus on substantive classes that interest them. In modern legal practice, successful litigators almost always specialize in a particular field of law. Thus, students with an interest in science and technology would be well advised to explore UR’s intellectual property offerings, such as Fundamentals of Intellectual Property, Patent Law, Entertainment Law, and Intellectual Property Litigation. Similarly, students interested in litigation and strategy in the business arena should take courses such as Corporations, Corporate Fraud and Litigation, Mergers & Acquisitions, Securities Regulation, Sales & Leases, Agency and Partnership, and Insurance Law. Students with an interest in environmental law should explore courses such as Environmental Law, International Environmental Law, and the Climate Change Seminar. Numerous additional examples could be given and students will no doubt find other courses that excite their interest. The important lesson here is simply that successful litigators tend to be experienced not only the processes of litigation but also in a particular field of law.
An important feature of any course of study is the integration of multiple ideas into a coherent whole. In the law school's litigation curriculum, this is achieved in the Civil Litigation capstone course. In this class, students are called upon to simultaneously apply doctrines of procedure, evidence, remedies, torts and contracts to everyday litigation questions, such as whom to sue, for what relief, and using what cause of action. The goal of the class is to develop in students a system of analysis through which they can develop and implement a comprehensive litigation plan.
Students may also gain litigation experience by participating in clinics operated by the Univerity of Richmond School of Law. Students in these clinics assume responsibility for actual cases under the supervision of faculty members and perform a variety of tasks, such as meeting with clients, filing motions and appearing in court. Clinics that offer these types of experiences include the Family Law Clinic, Education Rights Clinic, Children's Defense Clinic, Advanced Children's Law Clinic, and the Institute for Actual Innocence.
Externships are a great way to bridge the divide between classroom instruction and real-world practice. The law school’s Clinical Placement Program offers a host of externships that allow students to participate in active litigation. Under this program, students have the opportunity to work with judges in state and federal courts as well as with lawyers in government agencies and nonprofit organizations. A few examples include the U.S. Attorney’s Office, United States Equal Opportunity Commission, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, the Richmond City Attorney’s Office, the Legal Aid Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Students interested in learning about in-house counsel’s role in managing litigation may also want to consider working with counsel for NewMarket Services Corporation.