Law School Classes One Should Definitely Take If One Wants To Practice in the Area:

Last year I posted, and asked our readers, about classes every law student should take. A reader now asks a related question:

I'm not sure what field of law I want to practice so I am constantly wracking my brain trying to figure out what classes I should take as my 2nd and 3rd year electives. Although, after studying law for a semester, I am more comfortable with the idea that by spending enough time reading hornbooks and extensively researching, a lawyer can start to practice in a field in which he didn't take a single class while in law school, I am concerned that there may be some field(s) of law in which it might be significantly harder than others to do that. I'd like to know about that so that I can weigh taking classes in such an area....

Any thoughts?

Computer Crime Law. Definitely.
1.3.2008 12:43am
Dave N (mail):
Computer Crime Law. Definitely.
Nah, I bet the hornbook is just fine.

I'd suggest Criminal Procedure, for when your cousin gets pulled over and calls you from jail because the authorities think he and his friend just committed a robbery-homicide on a Spring Break road trip.

Wills and Trusts is good because all your relatives will want you to write a will or create a trust for them.

Commercial Law (or whatever they call the UCC course at your school) because it will really teach you what you THOUGHT you learned in Contracts.
1.3.2008 1:05am
Anonn (mail):
Prof. Kerr:

Actually, I'm really interested in computer crime law (and hope to work in that area this summer). My school does offer a "Criminal Justice and Cyber Law" course, but I wonder if you have any other courses you would recommend to students interested in that subject matter. That is, in addition to basic criminal law courses.
1.3.2008 1:07am
Tax - the concepts that are learned in both basic tax and corporate tax are fundamental to understanding tax. Most other practice areas share roots in common with other areas such that the absence of specific knowleldge need not be fatal. I have practiced tax for more than 25 years and have only seen one attorney survive without having taken at least basic or "baby" tax priro to practicing.

If someone is not sure what area he wants to practice in, it may help to divide the world into litigation-type areas versus commercial or transactional areas and choose courses accordingly.
1.3.2008 1:24am
Dan Schmutter:
Article 9

If you want to practice in any field of commercial law, whether transactional or litigation, it is really helpful to know these areas of the law, and taking a class in law school makes it so much easier to grasp them as a practicing attorney.

1.3.2008 1:41am
EV is probably fishing for the response that there is no such class. If there is any class where teaching yourself out of a hornbook is appropriate then it is appropriate for all classes. I mean really what do you expect to learn from a class that you can't teach yourself anyway?
1.3.2008 1:48am

Beyond course work directly in the area, I think the most important law school course would be investigatory criminal procedure. If your school offers it and will let you do it, another great option is to take an undergrad or professional school course in either computer science or computer forensics. Courses in general "cyber law" are okay, but often they're pretty fluffy.
1.3.2008 2:23am
Nah, I bet the hornbook is just fine.

To paraphrase Sgt. Hulka, "Son, there ain't no hornbook." (The treatise covers about 20% of the book, but that's it.)
1.3.2008 2:27am
OK is correct about taking a computer forensics class in a professional master's program instead of a "computer crime" class in law school. I took such a class as part of a technical MS program, but we had numerous lawyers in the class (at GMU) including an AUSA. That the class was taught by an FBI supervisory special agent who ran the DC computer forensics lab was a huge plus.
1.3.2008 2:49am
Admin law. Formal and informal rulemaking vs. quasi-judicial actions; substantial evidence vs. independent judgment standards of review; ordinary vs. administrative writs of mandate; regulatory takings.

There are no good coursebooks and the law at both the federal and state (California) level is both complex and badly muddled.
1.3.2008 2:56am
Well, it is actually hard to think of an area where taking the basic course would not be helpful. Can you do commercial paper without taking a basic UCC course? Maybe, but only because you had contracts. Can you do IP without taking an IP course? Depends, but certainly you won't be too good at it. Can you do securities work? Well, depends on whether you are doing substantive stuff or just proof reading the papers. Same for tax, since most first-year associates are given no responsibilities, they don't really need to know much about even basic tax law. Ditto for antitrust: it sure helps to know your economics, but as a first year associate you sure won't need it.

Coming straight out of 1L year, you can probably do 90% of the work of normal big firm litigators because a trained monkey could do it (reviewing documents in discovery, drafting discovery, and yet more discovery). And that works regardless of whether you litigate tax, antitrust, IP, securities, insurance, or pretty much anything else. But if you are doing substantive work, it always helps to have some knowledge of the underlying theory, no matter which area you are dealing with.

I know far less about criminal practice. I suspect that more substantive knowledge is required off the block simply because you get more real work off the block.
1.3.2008 4:55am
Jack Sprat (mail):
Admin law.
Crim pro.
Barack Obama.
1.3.2008 4:57am
bla bla bla:
I'm a 3L and a litigator 3L, but I'm going to guess secured transactions. Every corporate type I know talks about how important it is, and every 2L/3L that I know who worked at a firm doing transactional stuff their 1L year has said that they only really understand the work they did after they took secured transactions (though I suppose this applies more to certain types of transactional work than others).

On another note, I'd recommend taking corporations and securities. You probably would be able to teach this stuff to yourself, but it is really helpful for both corporate and litigation practices (unless you do some really specialized litigation, like criminal work or IP-only stuff).
1.3.2008 5:07am
Public_Defender (mail):
Anything with a historical perspective. You can always learn current law in any field, but as a practicing lawyer, you will almost never have time to look back at how the law developed.

Anything with a professor who is a great teacher. My insurance law professor's thoughts about how to put legal theory to work for clients are useful almost every day. My commercial transactions professor's practicality is equally helpful. My most useful "law professor" was an undergraduate professor who was intolerant of mushy ideas and long sentences.

I know far less about criminal practice. I suspect that more substantive knowledge is required off the block simply because you get more real work off the block.

I disagree. You can learn substantive criminal law on a case-by-base basis in daily practice. It changes almost daily anyways. What you need from law school is a good theoretical framework to put the substantive law in.
1.3.2008 5:21am
manupatra (mail) (www):
Manupatra is presenting a Seminar on Rubric of the New Competition Law Regime in India- Challenges and the Path Forward. All the law professionals interested in corporate law and competition law are cordially invited to be a part of the seminar. Seminar will be conducted at Yamuna Hall, Shangri-la Hotel, New Delhi on 12th January 2008 between 9:30 am to 5 pm.
Get details at
1.3.2008 5:34am
Sarah L.:
Let me strongly second Fd'A: tax classes are a prerequisite, or at least a corequisite, for practicing tax. Tax is not the kind of thing you can pick up entirely during practice. Any tax classes your JD program offers will be helpful (certainly basic and corporate, as Fd'A says), and after law school, once you're working, taking LL.M. tax classes at night will make you a better tax lawyer.
1.3.2008 6:38am
My suggestions for classes the reader should take if the reader is interested in these areas:

1. Taxation
2. Secured Transactions
3. Bankruptcy
4. Patent/IP

Each area is uniform around the country (at least with respect to the "basics"), so you can really learn some useful information. I had to put together a brief in opposition to a motion for a preliminary injunction with 5 days' notice recently that addressed trademark infringement and dilution claims; the hornbook (McCarthy's) helped but, even though I'm four years out of law school, my law school IP class shaved hours off my research time because I remembered most of the major points/elements.

P.S. To the reader who talked about how all your friends will want you to do a will or trust for them, I'd caution people that trusts is a real area of law and is more complex than you'd like it to be. A basic will is one thing, but you should leave real T&E work to the pros.
1.3.2008 7:25am
M (mail):
Admin law is, I think, very helpful if you'll regularly be before any administrative agency or the like. I've found what I learned in both my Trade Law and Immigration Law classes extremely useful for those areas. I'm sure you could learn them on your own but you'd be up and running much faster if you take a good course.
1.3.2008 7:28am
Pete Freans (mail):
I would agree that Tax, IP, Securities, & Corporate are areas which prior law school work give a practioner an advantage at first. I think once you have graduated & passed the bar, attending CLE classes as well as joining area-specific groups via the ABA or state bar associations will help move your career in the direction of your interest. Speaking to other area-specific lawyers, "talking shop" with them, and merely showing your face at these functions all serve a purpose. Of course hornbooks, treaties, & general research are essential as well. It took me many years to trust the networking or social aspect of our profession.
1.3.2008 7:30am
Strongly agree re tax. And anyone intending to practice in the federal courts should take fed courts.
1.3.2008 7:44am
Trial Advocacy, so you can get some practice in actually conducting a trial, with only your grade on the line, not someone else's interest. And/or Appellate Advocacy (more practice in advocacy in a courtroom) and/or a Clinic class (more practice in doing actual lawyering stuff).
1.3.2008 7:54am
Zathras (mail):
I second the vote for Bankruptcy. I didn't take it in law school, and trying to go through the stuff for the first time when it counts is harrowing. Also, taking civ pro and other litigation classes does next to nothing to prepare you for bankruptcy procedure, which is much more judge-dependent, not to say outcome-determinative, in bankruptcy court. Every attorney has bankruptcy touch their practice in some way, particularly in the next couple of years, so I definitely recommend it.
1.3.2008 8:26am
Federal courts
1.3.2008 8:31am
damon katz:
"1. Taxation
2. Secured Transactions
3. Bankruptcy
4. Patent/IP"

I agree with Patrick216, but I'd add:

5. Family Law
1.3.2008 8:43am
Zathras (mail):
I don't understand the votes for Fed Courts. Unless you're going to be clerking for a federal judge, do you really need a semester-long course on subject matter jurisdiction? I really enjoyed the class, but it was probably bottom-3 in usefulness.
1.3.2008 8:51am
The hardest to learn is securities, then secured transactions (I know about secured trans the real hard way because I had to relearn after I passed the bar with rev Art 9, using hornbooks and seminars for the new law).

Then bankruptcy, then banking, then employee benefits.

From what I can tell PI, insurance defense, estate planning, civil rights, employment, and labor you can all pick up on your own with some effort and good seminars.

From what I can also tell criminal defense is an OJT job and most folks can pick it up that way with little problem.
1.3.2008 8:56am
I wouldn't bother with Patent/IP unless the student has a technical background. One can easily practice copyright and trademark law without much background, the paralegals do that now. And if you're going to go into patent law, you'll probably need more than one survey course.

If the tax course is only an elective, take it. Both commercial lawyers and trial lawyers need to have a basic understanding of how the tax laws affect their clients' transactions, or their clients' structured settlements or personal estates.

Administrative law is probably necessary for anyone thinking of working in the public sector (disclaimer -- I didn't take it). Agree that secured transactions is essential (though boring), and I have seen lawyers become bankruptcy practitioners with only that commercial finance background and no formal bankruptcy courses. It's not that difficult of an area.
1.3.2008 9:04am
von (mail) (www):
From a new partner at a NJL 100 firm, who primarily litigates patent cases (with a background in complex commercial, class action, and [civil] RICO cases):

An advanced class on federal jurisdiction, if offered. It's basic, but you have to know federal jurisdiction well enough not to need think about it (as well as to identify potential motions to dismiss).

An advanced class on evidence (or advanced trial procedure, or whatever it's titled at your school). Again, it's basic, but an attorney who truly knows the rules of evidence is at a huge advantage -- because most attorneys don't have a clue. This remains true even if your cases rarely go to trial (like mine); knowing the rules of evidence will give you an advantage in depositions, at hearings, and on summary judgment -- and it will give you instant confidence when you finally do go to trial.

A class on bankruptcy law. You would be surprised how frequently bankruptcy issues come up. I didn't take a class on bankruptcy law, and I've regretted it. (YMMV, of course.)

A class on the UCC. Clients are going to ask you questions regarding their contracts, many of which will be governed by the UCC. It's good to know the framework.

And, if possible, a survey class on IP. IP has become a monster, and it's good to have a background in all of its variations. A more advanced class on patent law would also be worthwhile, if you're interested in the field, but I think a survey of IP is a necessary prerequisite.
1.3.2008 9:10am
I would say antitrust; there's a lot of concepts and vocabulary there that don't make a lot of sense to the uninitiated, and you'll benefit from a good understanding of the interplay between the relevant statutes.

I second Zathras's skepticism about Fed Courts. I was told (too late) in law school that it's the course you have to take if you're going to be a federal clerk, and a lot of judges do look for it on clerkship candidates' transcripts, but I never took it and didn't feel like I was missing out on anything during my district court clerkship. The judge, in any event, was satisfied with my work.
1.3.2008 9:11am
Rhode Island Lawyer:
Labor law, if you plan on representing labor or managment in a collective bargaining environment. You will get a grounding in the basic policies and concepts underlying the filed, and will also get some historical perspective on how the law has developed over time.
1.3.2008 9:19am
Georgetown had a negotiations seminar that was the most practically valuable class measured against what I do all day. I can't think of a practice that doesn't involve at least some substantial negotiating (although it may be mainly with clients rather than third parties in some).

I agree with Corporations, Tax and Bankruptcy if you have any interest in a biz-related career.

If you're cheap, take anything that'll be on the bar so you can avoid BarBri.

Then choose by the quality of the professor - if your school has the leading light in maritime law or comparitive law of the native African peoples, take their class so you feel like you got a good value for your tuition.
1.3.2008 9:19am
Richard Riley (mail):
Seconding several commenters above, as a tax lawyer I'd say take tax courses in law school if you want to practice tax law. Certainly basic and corporate, and also specialized courses like estate &gift, international and tax-exempts if they're available. The more tax background you can get in law school the better.

My own view is that a tax LL.M. doesn't much help (I don't have one so maybe I'm in denial), but of course it doesn't hurt. The law school tax courses give you the conceptual background you need; the LL.M. courses mainly provide the current technical rules, and those start changing the minute you're out of school.
1.3.2008 9:25am
Yankev (mail):
Definitely securities law, tax (as many tax courses as you can) and employee benefits.

I picked up secured transactions on my own, with little besides the bar review and a brief unit during the Creditor's Remedies course. A class would have been helpful, but it can be learned on the job.

Skipping BAR/BRI may be false economy; bar exams differ sufficently from law school exams to justify the cost. Cheap insurance given the cost of failure.
1.3.2008 9:41am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Tax and IP

These are two courses that are background for a huge number of business decisions. Even if you never practice in the areas a basic understanding will keep you from really sticking your foot in 'it'.

Sit in a meeting and say "has anyone checked whether the trademark rights are transferable?" It will go a long way, think Volkwagen and the Rolls Royce mark. Just knowing when to get experts in on a deal will be worth the ime spent in law school.
1.3.2008 9:47am
Liberal Libertarian:
I don't think a hornbook can teach you how to negotiate a deal or a settlement or argue in front of a judge (not a moot panel of 3 three appellate judges, but a cranky state court judge who has barely read your papers even though the issue is complex). It takes practice -- and is essential in almost any area of law.

I think the question is actually misguided: a law firm isn't going to hire you as a new lawyer or a lateral in another field based on your reading and research. The time used for post-law school reading and research would be much better spent getting some hands on experience, be it through pro bono work or getting work from a different department within your firm/organization. Getting that kind of experience is hard, and legal job advice boards are just full of letters relating to switching practice areas. As for going solo on the basis of hronbook workm, it is hard just to hang out a shingle without seeing it done.

Oh, and if you really need us to ID a practice area: I'd say ERISA. *shudder*
1.3.2008 9:56am
Houston Lawyer:
We've actually hired newbies to work in the securities group who didn't take securities. That makes no sense to me. If you're going to do transactional work, you should take business associations, bankruptcy and secured transactions. IP and antitrust matters come up, and taking the class will allow you to spot issues to refer to an expert.
1.3.2008 10:17am
Prof. S. (mail):
1.) Antitrust - you need time to discuss the economics of the various cases. Plus historical prospective is important.

2.) Local/Municipality law - It is going to help if you understand how all of the parts work before you just start winging it. I've found this area to be much more practical than people give it credit.
1.3.2008 10:25am
Not criminal procedure, family law, tax or wills and trusts, unless you plan to practice in those areas. It makes it much easier to tell relatives who ask for help that you never studied those issues in law school and then just give them the number of someone who actually practices in thoses areas.
1.3.2008 10:33am
Craig Oren (mail):
1. Administrative Law. Few law students anticipate how often they'll find themselves dealing with administrative agencies. (disclaimer: I teach the course.)

2. Business Associations. No matter what field you are in, you need a basic understanding of how business entities work.

3. Federal Income Tax: another all-pervasive field.

4. Evidence. I myself learned it from the bar review course, but it's a valuable course even if you never set foot in a courtroom.

5. One or two practical courses such as appellate advocacy and negotiations. These courses will give you some confidence as a new lawyer.

6. If you have an interest in litigation, you should take Federal Courts. This is a hard course to learn on one's own, and it is crucially important to anyone who finds him or herself in federal court.

Contrary to one of the suggestions above, I do not think that you need to take Trusts &Estates unless you have an interest in practicing in the field. (I teach this course, too). You won't learn enough in a one-semester course to write a will (all you'll be able to say is "see a lawyer") and you can learn what you need from the bar review course.
1.3.2008 10:40am
Prufrock765 (mail):
If Evidence is not a 1L course it is a must.
Bankruptcy, yes
Some kind of UCC course (Art 2--Sales, or Art 9--Secured Transactions are the most popular ones)
Unless you have a good idea that you want to practice in those areas AVOID Tax and IP. No one in any firm is going to ask you for tax or IP advice unless they know that is your special field. Nor should a non-specialist offer off-the-cuff advice in either of these fields.

The other areas that it helps to know something about (crim, divorce, wills/estates...) are based on state law so you would need a course in a school in that state for it to be any good.

Good Luck
1.3.2008 10:42am
Waldensian (mail):
A lot of substantive law is pretty easy to figure out. If I had it to do all over again, I would take the courses for areas of the law that I find to be routinely counterintuitive:


In that order. I've been surprised by how often I've run into insurance issues in my practice (which "shouldn't" have much to do with insurance), and it really has a vocabulary and conceptual framework that's all its own.
1.3.2008 10:43am
Waldensian (mail):
Oh, and I second the nomination for Family Law. It will come in handy if you practice in a big firm. If you know what I mean.

"Family" law. What a euphemism.
1.3.2008 10:44am
I had the senior partner heading litigation (former SCOTUS clerk, etc) at one of the top shops confirm for me what I already knew: if you are going to actually practice in federal courts (as opposed to a law prof type or whatever) then Choice of Law is extremely helpful. Federal Courts is surely important and all, but I cannot tell you a single diversity case where there isn't a choice of law question present. It's just a really helpful course.

Anyway, from there take admin, tax, corporations, and if you're a transaction guy you should take securities reg and secured transactions. Maybe T&E if you have old family members. But honestly, if you're a litigator take choice of law.

(And let's be honest, Crim Pro as one of the *MUST* courses for law school? I agree it's a useful class, and if you are going into criminal practice then yes take it, but for everyone? And do criminal practitioners really rely on their constitutional law based crim pro class all that much?)
1.3.2008 10:44am
Waldensian (mail):

No one in any firm is going to ask you for tax or IP advice unless they know that is your special field. Nor should a non-specialist offer off-the-cuff advice in either of these fields.

I agree with respect to tax but strongly disagree with respect to IP. Virtually any commercial litigation practice, for example, will bump into IP issues fairly routinely, and a good commercial litigator needs a working knowledge to be able to spot them.
1.3.2008 10:45am
Federal courts
Secured transactions

IP is not necessary. You can pick up copyright and trademark practice, and if you're not an engineer, patent is out anyway.
1.3.2008 10:47am
David Drake:
Federal Tax--individual, corporate and flow-through (i.e. partnership)--corporate tax will help you see the real reason for corporations AND the reason why most businesses today opt for partnership tax treatment, while partnership tax is where the action is because of LLCs.

UCC, esp article 9 and bankruptcy/creditors rights.

Securities--if you are in business practice, you MUST know a "security" when you see it.

A knowledge of tax law gives you the ability to add value to a transaction; a knowledge of securities law and creditors rights equips you to avoid potentially fatal pitfalls.

I don't think you could pick any of these three up on your own--tax certainly not.
1.3.2008 10:53am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I'd suggest Criminal Procedure, for when your cousin gets pulled over and calls you from jail because the authorities think he and his friend just committed a robbery-homicide on a Spring Break road trip.

Actually, isn't renting the movie (actually the DVD should be a required purchase for all law students--who needs the stuffy 'Paper Chase') sufficient? You can skip the class.
1.3.2008 10:54am
David Drake:

I think Stevethepatent guy has it right about tax and securities: you are not necessarily going to provide the answers unless you practice in those areas, but you have to see the opportunity or the risk in time to call in an expert who can provide the answers.
1.3.2008 10:59am
I can't offer much of a comparative perspective, but I know that if I hadn't taken Securities, I would have been toast in my first year in NYC biglaw on the corporate side. There's a brutally steep learning curve, and without a rigorous law school class, the complexity, concepts and jargon of U.S. securities law would require a lot of discipline and enough spare time for some serious independent study. Even *with* the class, there was still an enormous amount to learn and integrate.

Also, while there might be some minor collateral benefits, I certainly can't recommend that every law student student study Securities law. It would be a wholesale waste of brain cells.
1.3.2008 10:59am
Michael Masinter (mail):
Judging from the makeup of the civil appellate docket of the federal courts, students would be wise to take a course in employment discrimination law.
1.3.2008 11:05am
I'll third or fourth or whatever admin law. Aside from being fairly ubiquitous, its one of the most difficult subjects to learn from a hornbook. If you anticipate doing any regulatory work at all, take it.
1.3.2008 11:18am
Just Dropping By (mail):
I find the number of people saying to take admin law interesting. Is that not usually a required class? (It was at my law school.)
1.3.2008 11:36am
If you are heading into litigation - take whatever "trial advocacy" and advanced evidences classes and any alternative dispute resolution/negotiation classes you can.

No matter where you want to practice, take bankruptcy.
1.3.2008 11:50am
Thales (mail) (www):
Let me add to the chorus of: tax, admin law, business organizaions and evidence as the four most important general classes useful to any lawyer. Beyond that, have fun! I enjoyed antitrust, securities regulation, criminal procedure, the first amendment, and a few "law and . . . " enrichment courses (as long as they're critical/rigorous and not too fluffy of a subject).
1.3.2008 11:59am
Adeez (mail):
For NYers: most definitely NY Practice. Boring as hell, but I regret not taking it. That CPLR's a bitch.
1.3.2008 12:26pm
I was in your shoes in law school; so I took most of the staple courses mentioned above (tax, bankruptcy, "payment systems"/commercial paper, antitrust, administrative, criminal procedure, federal courts) because most of the above are part of a traditional law school curriculum. If you don't have a commitment to one field of law, your diet should be broad; and the traditional menu is a decent one.

But don't neglect courses that sound interesting to you, even if you don't think you will practice in them-- which also brings up the idea that if you don't know much about a field of law, you can either go to your school's library and skim a nutshell/treatise, or find a free outline on the internet to skim through.

Lastly- having on occasion been plunged into unfamiliar fields, it is definitely true that you can be a good practitioner in a field that you did not take a law school class. But, for some of these technical subjects such as tax or bankruptcy, if you took the class in law school in the last 3 to 5 years, you will more easily remember the lay of the land.
1.3.2008 12:33pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
If you want to practice in immigration law, I suggest you take a class on it. Immigration law is a complicated mess of ever-changing, ever-sunsetting statutes. Just jumping into it with a hornbook is probably a good way to end up in deep trouble.

This may explain why so many immigration lawyers skate so close to malpractice.
1.3.2008 12:42pm
Dodd (mail) (www):
Tax is very useful, even if you don't really expect or plan to use it as a main practice area. It touches a lot of things and your clients have a tendency to ask tax questions. If you've taken it, you'll at least have enough of a foundation to tell them what to ask their accountant if you refer them over that way.

Negotiation/Mediation. My school had a Certificate/Masters program which ate up a lot of my electives but was well worth it. Even a class or two will help - in and out of your profession.

Practical Lawyering. Goes by lots of names, but will concentrate on the day-to-day work of litigating. Even if you clerk, you'll be amazed how many simple, everyday tasks you have no idea how to do because law school is so heavy on theory. A boost will do you good, especially if you don't end up at a medium or large firm where you'll have the luxury of on the job training.
1.3.2008 12:45pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

I practice in a fairly esoteric field not well understood by most lawyers, although maybe they think they do, and I did not take any classes in this area in law school. You should take courses because they interest you, not because they seem like a good idea. Life is too short.
1.3.2008 12:57pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think that it is a big mistake assuming that you will have experts around and therefore you don't need to take a class. Rather, the reason for taking a lot of these classes is to spot issues and then if you can, bounce it to an expert. If you are advising a business, you are asking for big trouble if you miss IP, antitrust, and bankruptcy issues.

Indeed, I remember maybe 15 years ago interviewing for a job at a well known company. They gave me an IP license to review and asked my thoughts. My one word answer was "antitrust". They thought I was crazy, until several state AGs made the same observation. If just one attorney reviewing the license before it was implemented had taken an antitrust course and spotted the issue, they could have avoided a lot of legal scrutiny and public disapproval.

So, my list is aimed at anyone who thinks they might want to deal with business, and for many attorneys, that is where the money is.

1. Evidence - should be mandatory. I suspect there might be attorneys who never deal with litigation before retiring, but I have never met one.

2. Civil Procedure - ditto.

3. Admin - should be mandatory

4. Antitrust - see above.

5. IP - those paralegals doing C/R registrations are not spotting copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret issues.

6. Business associations, esp. corporations. If for no other reason, you need this if you ever intend to deal with business agreements of any type.

7. Tax

Let me suggest that if you deal with businesses, you will run into most, if not all, of these areas in your practice at some time or another during your career. On the other hand, I have never had to deal with family law, and some of the other Bar necessities, and never expect to. In almost 20 years of practice, the only real property issues I have run into were a result of my RE broker's license - though my father did run into RAP a couple of weeks ago (but then, he practiced RE law for almost 50 years before retiring a decade ago).
1.3.2008 1:03pm
Cecil Franklin (mail):
My suggestion: get out while you still can.
1.3.2008 1:20pm
I took all bar courses my last semester of law school and it was helpful in studying for the Bar... so I would say:

Crim Pro

For corporate/tax types, I would take:
Federal Taxation
Corporate/Partnership Taxation
International Taxation
Securities Reg.
1.3.2008 1:23pm
Dave N (mail):
Manupatra is presenting a Seminar on Rubric of the New Competition Law Regime in India- Challenges and the Path Forward. All the law professionals interested in corporate law and competition law are cordially invited to be a part of the seminar. Seminar will be conducted at Yamuna Hall, Shangri-la Hotel, New Delhi on 12th January 2008 between 9:30 am to 5 pm.
Sounds more like CLE than a law school class and only marginally useful at that.

On a serious note, I did not mention it before, but I agree with those who recommend Trial Advocacy if you are at all interested in litigation.

If your law school has a clinical program in an area that interests you, take advantage of it. You may find out you really hate that kind of law or you may find you love it--either way that is a good thing to know BEFORE graduation.
1.3.2008 1:27pm
Peter Wimsey:

1. Tax - Tax is important (almost) no matter what kind of law you practice. Even if you don't practice in tax or a business related area, there are a lot of concepts in taxation that are generally applicable. Also, if you work hard and give good service to your clients, you may find out one day that you have to pay tax yourself. :)

2. Evidence - As my law school catalog said 15 years ago: "Evidence is important for those students who intend to practice law." Evidence is important even if you're not a litigator simply because it is very useful to know what kinds of things are admissible and what are not.

3. Admin Law - Or any course that deals substantively with admin law, such as securities reg, environment, etc. I found my securities classes to be much more useful in terms of learning admin law than my actual admin law class (and I do a lot of admin law, although no securities). The principles seemed to make more sense when I had a substantive body of law to attach them to.
1.3.2008 1:30pm
Let me second business organizations, evidence and trial advocacy.
Biz Orgs, my first job was at a plaintiff's firm. When I could insure the boss that we were suing the correct corporation 3 days before SOL expired, I got lots of props.

Evidence, even if you're not going into litigation, it helps to know what's important for those who will be in litigation

Trial Advocacy. yes, you can pick up litigation skills especially if you go into criminal. But you will pick them up quicker with a trial ad class.
1.3.2008 1:44pm
rew (mail):
Amazing to see the spread of viewpoints here. My two cents:

1. To achieve those objectives you can't focus on the course title, you must research the prof. Some profs are deeply attuned to real practice and can teach it. Some have not a clue. Imho, given your stated objectives this factor counts more than the choice of subject matter.

2. Also, the key decision point as to subject matter appears to be whether you want to prepare for a "main street practice" or a "biglaw practice."

3. I respectfully disagree with the genteleman above who suggests that emergent trade practice law in India will be the course for you. I've found that the topic comes up in real life less often than you'd imagine. Again, that's just my two cents.
1.3.2008 2:15pm
Waldensian (mail):

To achieve those objectives you can't focus on the course title, you must research the prof. Some profs are deeply attuned to real practice and can teach it. Some have not a clue. Imho, given your stated objectives this factor counts more than the choice of subject matter.

This is a very good point.
1.3.2008 3:23pm
College Law:
Taxation Law and Intellectual Property Law. Not intuitive at all and pervasive. Always creeping in unexpectedly. These days Immigration Law would not be a bad choice either--the least intuitive of any!
1.3.2008 3:23pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Zathras said:

I don't understand the votes for Fed Courts. Unless you're going to be clerking for a federal judge, do you really need a semester-long course on subject matter jurisdiction? I really enjoyed the class, but it was probably bottom-3 in usefulness.

Obviously, you haven't litigated anything in the federal courts. Plaintiff's attorneys will do anything (except stipulate that the amount in controversy is less than $75K, of course) to avoid litigating in federal court. I have had more than one occasion to roll a Plaintiff's attorney is federal court because of their inability to practice there.

If you are still in law school, I advise you to re-think your attitude towards that class.

I would also recommend, if available at your law school, the following:

- Conflict of Laws (another area of real-life fun!)
- Remedies (what do you get if you actually win?)

Don't bother with any class that has "[insert Race, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Indigenous Peoples here] and the Law" in the title and anything that deals with International Law.
1.3.2008 4:10pm
The Chief (mail):
I would agree with the poster who listed a top 7 (Evidence, CivPro, Admin Law, Anti-trust, BizAssoc, IP, and Tax), but I would add Insurance Law. Every civil case either touches on or revolves around insurance law - from who pays to how much you can get. What complicates the decision for law school students looking to maximize their exposure to a variety of practice areas without sacrificing "bar courses" is the fact Insurance Law changes from state-to-state (sometimes dramatically) so it doesn't seem as "portable" as other courses and seminars. Still the fundamentals (that's what law schools teach - right?) are the same nationwide and it is a good introduction to a sometimes confusing practice area that most lawyers will deal with during their careers.
1.3.2008 4:15pm
Connecticut Lawyer (mail):
I've been practicing law for over 25 years so my advice is either seasoned or woefully out of date, take your pick.

The only classes you need are in the first year. After that, you should pick classes primarily by who is teaching them. Take classes with the best profs your school has, it really doesn't matter what they're teaching, you'll learn something about how really smart lawyers think about the law and that's all you can really expect from law school.

The only exception to this would be if you are interested in practicing tax law. In that case, take all the tax classes you can. But otherwise, don't sweat the details, you'll read more cases in a day in practice than in a semester in law school.
1.3.2008 4:21pm
If you're going into litigation, obviously take some trial practice courses. Federal litigation should be part of that. Product liability was helpful in my practice, as was federal taxation (just for personal information). And take a Law and the Banana course. Heck, it's law school, it sucks, you might as well have some fun.
1.3.2008 5:23pm
Zathras (mail):
Brian G, I have done plenty in federal courts. However, a fed courts class is not about procedure (at least from my experience); it is solely about jurisdiction, including standing. Standing almost ever an issue unless you practice for or against public interests. The nuts and bolts issues of amt in controversy, diversity, are mentioned in 1st year civ pro, and anything beyond the basics is very simple to catch in practice. The question was what should law students take to prepare them for real world practice. You want to take classes which are hard to pick up at first glance in practice, and fed courts does not fit that bill.

The only time I actually used something from my fed courts class was defending against a frivolous abstention motion, and in doing so my side was awarded atty fees.

A Fed cts class is more of a hoop to jump through for getting a clerkship than any real benefit in practicing law.
1.3.2008 7:06pm
Zathras (mail):
I also definitely second the votes to choose classes based on the professor, not the subject.
1.3.2008 7:07pm
Family Law, because families (one's own or married into, or those of friends) can be c r a z y :-) But seriously, family law.

(and for me, Admiralty;-)
1.3.2008 8:04pm
eric (mail):
I don't understand the family law recommendations. Is this class not highly dependent on state law? Isn't the state law easy to learn?

Besides, the standard of review is usually abuse of discretion, so the trial judge decides the case over 95% of the time. The tests are also so vague that they are useless.
1.3.2008 8:36pm
TechieLaw (mail) (www):
Probably the most important class one can take in law school (litigators only): Any Trial Advocacy class that actually forces students to go through all the steps of a trial. My school offered a two week course using NITA materials. I didn't sleep much for those two weeks, but the experience was totally worth it because real trial lawyers and judges showed me how to try a case from jury selection through closing statements. (We were told that the same class costs real lawyers $12,000 for the two weeks.)

Other than trial advocacy, I don't think too many of my law school classes were "must" classes. The one that comes to mind is Tax, mainly because it was like learning a new language. I never want to see another problem from my Tax class, but at least I learned the basics.

Regarding patent law as a required course for IP lawyers: I disagree. I never took a patent class in law school, but I'm doing a huge amount of patent work now without any problems. Yes, there are holes in my knowledge, but they're rapidly filling in.
1.3.2008 10:17pm
theobromophile (www):
Tax: you need it for corporations, family law, trusts and estates. Take it, no matter what.

Admin law: like tax, it is almost a foundational course for a lot of other ones. Take it, no matter what.

IP: If you are generally interested, take a survey course or an IP transactions course. The only thing that you cannot do as a non-engineer is patent prosecution.

Constitutional criminal procedure: it's often on the bar, and, if you are really clueless about what you want to do, working as a prosecutor or defence attorney can be a good way to defer that decision while gaining some excellent litigation experience.

Everything required for 3L practice certification: even if you don't want to do a clinic, you can do things like work in a prosecutor's office. Also, some employers are able to take advantage of their 2L summer associates who have the certification.

Antitrust: I've hit it a few times in my health law courses and my patent course. If, by your 3L year, you haven't run into the basic concepts in any of your other courses, take it.

That brings me to my next point: a lot of these courses overlap. You get some secured trans in bankruptcy, some tax in family law, some antitrust and admin law in medical technology. Hit the basic areas in some form or another.

Look for growing areas of the law. Take classes with good professors; at this point, I pick my classes based almost entirely upon who is teaching them. (I go for a bar course every semester, an IP/technology course, and a con law-type course. I pick the courses that fall into those categories and are taught by the best professors.)

Never, ever take a schedule that requires you to take five exams. Write a paper instead. When in doubt, go for variety, so if you hate one area of law, you aren't stuck with four classes of it.
1.3.2008 11:30pm
I think oil and gas law would be extremely difficult if you've never taken a class. First of all, it's extremely intricate and old fashioned property law, and courts usually interpret the language of grants and leases very strictly. Second, while there is language commonly used in lease terms ("market value"), that term is interpreted in opposite ways in neighboring states. Third, there are many standard old lease forms floating around and each of them has strengths and weaknesses (also depending on which state is interpreting it).

It's possible for a company to have leases in TX and OK, but you wouldn't want to use the same lease language, because their state laws are opposite on key points that aren't obvious. I wouldn't have wanted to figure all that out myself, especially if I'm going to be sued for malpractice for not knowing something taught in a basic class.
1.4.2008 9:48pm