Choosing Courses

After your first year of law school, it’s up to you to figure out what courses to take. How should choose your courses?

  1. Pursue Your Interests. The first and most important factor in course selection is you—what interests, excites and motivates you. If you enjoyed Criminal Law in your first year, for example, then by all means enroll in more criminal law classes that you can. To get a sense of the classes offered in a particular field, check out our Courses of Study. Not only will that page help you spot courses to take in the upcoming semester, but it can also help you plan two and three semesters down the road.

    Although some students finish their first year of law school with clear area of interest, most do not. For these students, course selection should be about exploring different types of courses and areas of law. If you think you might be interested in litigation, for example, then take a course or two in the litigation field (again, the
    Courses of Study can guide you to the right courses) and try to get some litigation experience in a clinic. If litigation is not for you, then you might next explore transactional opportunities. Of course, there is no reason that you cannot try out both areas of study in the same semester and then further pursue the area that you most enjoyed.

  2. Keep an Eye on Degree Requirements. Another important part of choosing courses is keeping track of what you need to graduate. The J.D. degree requirements include several courses that you need to complete after your first year. Other than Trial Advocacy (which you must take in the fall of your second year) you are free to satisfy these requirements at any time during your final two years of law school. Most students complete one or two of the course requirements each semester.

  3. Keep Your Career Goals in Mind. Not every course you take needs to relate to your employment goals, but be mindful that employers will—to varying degrees—consider your course choices as an indication of your career goals. For example, if you anticipate pursuing a job practicing tax law but neglect to take basic tax courses, a prospective employer might doubt the sincerity of your interest in the field. Employers understand that students can’t take every single course in a given area, so don’t feel obliged to do so if there are other courses that interest you. The key insight here is simply that the courses you take will form part of the story you tell employers about who are and what you are interested in.

  4. How to Think About the Bar Exam. The bar exam tests 15-20 subjects covered in law school, many of which are covered in the first-year curriculum. For courses that are not covered, however, it can be tempting to take additional courses so you will be better prepared for the bar exam. Empirical studies, however, indicate that diligent study during the summer of the bar exam is the primary indicator of success, not taking “bar courses” during law school. That being said, there is likely to be some value to familiarizing yourself with a particular topic tested on the bar. The best approach is probably to treat a course's relevance to the bar as a “plus factor.” Thus, if you are completely indifferent between taking two courses, but one is offered on the bar, you should probably lean towards the one tested on the bar.

  5. Special Considerations for 2Ls. There are a couple considerations that apply specifically to rising 2Ls:
    • A Busy Second Year. Lots of 2Ls find their second year to be busy, (particularly the fall semester) for two reasons. First, the second year of law school is a crucial time to make significant strides towards summer and post-graduate employment. Second, many 2Ls take on new extracurricular responsibilities that they did not have in their first year (e.g., journals, Moot Court, TAB, etc). Because of these extra time commitments, many 2Ls take a somewhat lighter credit load in their fall semester—often 12-14 credits. 
    • Virginia Third-Year Practice Certificate. The Virginia State Bar permits rising 3Ls to practice in Virginia courts under the supervision of a licensed attorney, provided they have received a “Third-Year Practice Certificate.” To obtain this certificate, students must complete 4 semesters of law school, including courses in criminal law, procedure, professional ethics and evidence. Because students take criminal law and civil procedure in their first year, they must only take a professional responsibility course (marked LWPR in BannerWeb) and Evidence (LAWE 599) during their second year to earn the certificate. If you take these courses in your second year, the Law School will automatically apply for a certificate for you, regardless of whether you plan to use it.
    • Keep an Eye on Your Third Year. When choosing courses, it is wise to consider what courses you might take during your third year as well. If there is a particular course that you know you will want to take, check with the professor who will be teaching that course to make sure they intend to offer it. Not every course is offered every year and if the course won’t be offered your third year, you should make sure to take it as a 2L.