Law School Courses

September 1, 2011 Law School Courses

Below is Orin Kerr writing in The Volokh Conspiracy blog on law school courses. I am glad to see that evidence is voted the most useful, but can’t understand how it is an elective! In a rebuttal, Viva Chen, in the Careerist, sarcastically notes, “As a former corporate lawyer, I must say that evidence was totally useless, though it comes in handy for nitpicking court scenes in movies or on TV.”   This is the problem with critiquing law schools and their offerings. Most of the time graduates evaluate the importance of a course depending on the type of law they are practicing. A good example of the hammer and nail analogy. I am as guilty of that as anyone. I relentlessly push evidence and trial advocacy because that is what I have practiced for over forty years and all I care about.

A better survey would ask who were the best professors. I think a student should select a course based on who is teaching it. More can be learned in an esoteric course with a great teacher than a more mainstream course with a boring prof who can’t communicate. I took income tax and had to get all my information from the textbook because the professor, who wrote the book and was a brilliant guy, couldn’t adequately communicate the concepts in class.

Interesting Survey on What Elective Courses Lawyers Wish They Had Taken in Law School, and What Courses Were Most Useful
Orin Kerr • August 25, 2011 12:16 pm

GW Law School (where I teach) recently sent an e-mail to its alumni asking for their views of what elective courses they now wish they had taken in law school, and also which elective courses they took that have proved most useful to them. The response was light — the school received 576 responses out of about 13,500 e-mails sent out — but the results are pretty interesting. A summary of the results can be found here, and the details are here.

The three most useful elective courses students took, according to the responses received:

1. Evidence — 156 respondents (27%)
2. Administrative Law — 120 respondents (21%)
3. Corporations — 105 respondents (18%)

There was less uniformity in the answers of what courses people wish they had taken:

Of the wish list courses with more than 35 votes (6%), four were in the area of civil litigation, including the top of this list, Complex Litigation (50), plus Pre– Trial Advocacy (46), Trial Advocacy (44), and Alternative Dispute Resolution (36). Second highest on the overall wish list was Administrative Law (48), with many of those supporters listing other practice areas as their principal focus. Others high on this list were Corporate Finance (41) and Law & Accounting (38, including support outside the core practice areas). Some, but not all, of the observations based on the wish list can be explained because many of these courses were not offered when some of the respondents attended GW.

The study also pointed out several law school elective courses that were highly enrolled among students but that alumni did not often list as among the most useful:

. . . [V]ery popular courses taken during that same period were Criminal Procedure (555 students), Negotiation (532 students), Legal Drafting (424 students), Trusts and Estates (423 students), and International Law (330 students). For those courses, their utility, as judged by our respondents, included Criminal Procedure (35), Negotiation (34), Legal Drafting (37), Trusts & Estates (19), and International Law (14).