he second year of law school has just begun, and for the first time, you’re finally have more control over your class schedule. Going forward, you’ll have more opportunities to fill your schedule with a variety of classes, and it can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide which ones are the best fit for you. You’ve probably heard from upper-level students and even practicing attorneys that it doesn’t really matter what classes you take in law school because no class can really prepare you for the actual practice of law. Proponents of this view recommend that students focus on doing coursework that they find interesting and engaging, and which will help them narrow their focus so they can determine what area of law they would like to make a part of their future practice.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. While it is important to balance out your schedule with classes that you find interesting, it is equally as important to make sure you can demonstrate to potential employers that you have gained some practical skills. And, let’s not forget that the bar exam is not getting any easier these days, and it’s vital to take an array of courses that will ensure that you pass on the first try.
Bar Subject Courses
One critical mistake many students make when selecting electives is to bypass subjects considered to be difficult or that are graded on a harsh curve, which typically coincide with subjects that are tested on the bar exam. The rationale for avoiding so-called “bar courses”—not to be confused with bar review—is that despite how important mastery of these subjects will be when bar preparation begins, the potential for poor performance negatively impacting GPA outweighs other concerns. Though the bar exam seems far off now, the reality is that you should be preparing for it throughout law school, and that means that bar courses are essential to a balanced course schedule.
The bar exam, especially the Multistate Essay Exam, which is a key component of most state bar exams (consult the National Conference of Bar Examiners website to determine what your state tests), has become increasingly more difficult over the last couple administrations. Secured Transactions, Commercial Paper, Conflicts of Law, Wills & Trusts, Family Law—all of these have been tested over the last two years, yet these are classes many law students assiduously avoid. If any of these subjects strike fear in your heart now, it will only be worse during your bar preparation period. Consider which subjects it is unlikely you will be able to master easily during bar review and take those classes. Consult with your professors or bar preparation coordinator for guidance on which classes are the best for supplementing your own bar exam studies down the line.
Practical Skills Courses
Many students shy away from practical skills classes for a variety of reasons. Students refrain from enrolling in trial advocacy because they dread public speaking or never intend to litigate. Other students look askance at drafting classes because they don’t want to be burdened with weekly writing assignments.
While it is true that most practical skills courses, especially writing intensive or trial advocacy, require far more preparation than a traditional lecture course, the benefits far outweigh all the extra work. Employers these days are increasingly demanding that students emerge from the hallowed halls of their alma maters ready to hit the ground running. Gone are the days where employers preferred a tabula rasa graduate so they could train up the new attorney to the firm’s own way of doing things. Nowadays, employers can already select candidates with years of legal experience before even considering a new law school graduate, so it is more important than ever to cultivate writing and oral advocacy skills while still in school.
Areas of Interest
As crucial as bar courses and practical skills classes are to your future success on the bar exam and at your first legal job, it’s still just as important to take at least one course per semester that you know you will enjoy. Whether it’s an area of law that particularly interests you, an area in which you would like to earn a certificate, or just a class that will give you some breathing room in your schedule, try to do something that you can look forward to each week.
Choose carefully, though. Employers like to see transcripts that are well balanced with skills classes, bar classes, and a few fun subjects, but avoid falling into the trap of padding your schedule with “easy” classes just to boost your GPA or get out of Friday classes. Prospective employers know all the tricks, and they will often look at other candidates that appear more serious simply because they concentrated on building their skills instead of “goofing off.”
Now, we want to hear from you! What classes are you planning to take this year and why?