One of the most exciting aspects of transitioning out of 1L year is the ability to choose your courses. There are many factors to consider when putting your schedule together. Students should be mindful of course requirements and prerequisites, but should also recognize that they are afforded considerable flexibility in choosing which courses to take. To assist with this process, some general advice is offered below, in addition to individual perspectives from professors.
The Colorado Law 2L and 3L curriculum is largely elective. Elective courses are intended to allow students to achieve a number of different objectives:
- Gain breadth of legal knowledge.
- Obtain more detailed understanding of the substance of the law in a particular area.
- Demonstrate specialization through completion of a certificate program.
- Develop specific intellectual or practical skills, such as effective written or oral communication, close reading of complex statutory materials, or clinical proficiency.
- Acquire a more sophisticated understanding of law by studying theoretical fields like jurisprudence, history, or policy studies.
The choice among elective courses will depend in part on the student's professional objectives. Those aiming at a general law practice might emphasize courses that provide wide substantive coverage and the development of a full array of basic skills. Students who want a specialized practice, such as tax or natural resources law, might choose a sequence of courses relevant to that area. All students should choose elective courses to assure that they are exposed to all of the major objectives during their legal education.
Consider Core Courses
"Core" courses refer to those traditional areas of the law where, regardless of practice area, attorneys can be expected to interact. Administrative Law, Corporations, Criminal Procedure, Family Law, and Wills & Trusts are a few examples of core courses. These subject areas are also tested on the Colorado Bar Exam, so taking them serves the dual purposes of ensuring a well-rounded understanding of the law and better likelihood of passing the bar.
As Professor Wayne Gazur advises, "it has been my experience that many attorneys work in a general office practice that demands exposure to a broad body of law. Accordingly, I generally recommend a package of core courses."
Professor Melissa Hart supports this point by suggesting that students "take a class that exposes you to a complicated statutory/regulatory scheme. In the first year of law school, you will have focused almost entirely on reading cases. As a lawyer, you will have to work with statutes and regulations as well, and it is important to learn the skills associated with maneuvering through these often-convoluted texts."
Cultivate a Sense of Purpose
Professor Ming Chen advises that "although law school has fewer requirements than undergrad, think about course selection as choosing a major, even if it is one you change and even if you have minors and pure electives chosen for exposure and personal interest. Doing so allows you to cultivate a sense of purpose and coherence during law school. It also signals to future employers that you're committed to an issue, and it helps build useful skills and knowledge for career paths that benefit from it. For example, a future immigration lawyer is clearly well served by taking the immigration law survey course, asylum law, or the criminal defense and immigration clinic. She might also be served by taking family law, employment law, citizenship, race-related courses, international human rights, national security, administrative law, and other less obvious courses that comprise important areas of immigration-related practice."
Explore New Areas and Lead With Curiousity
Variety can be achieved by exploring new subject areas and experiencing different teaching styles. Regardless of how committed you are to a certain area of practice, keep in mind Professor Erik Gerding's observation that "law school gives you a rare chance to roam through topics and areas of interest outside of what you think you might do." Through exploring a variety of disciplines, as Professor Hart reflects, "you may discover an interest that you never knew you had."
Professor Deborah Cantrell tells students "it's really important to lead with curiousity when you're picking classes. I think you'll be more excited to learn if you don't feel obligated to be in a class. I also think it's really important to take different types of classes-- some lecture, some experiential and some smaller, discussion-focused classes. while you're in law school, you still have the freedom to roam in your learning, and you should take full advantage of that."
Professor Kristelia Garcia recommends that "students use their electives not only to build a solid foundation in the area they think they want to work in, but also to save at least one course per semester for experimenting in an area they believe they are unlikely to practice in. It is important as a lawyer to be able to think about law in different ways."
Follow Your Interests
As much as students are encouraged to build a practical foundation and get outside of their comfort zone, there is also great benefit to engaging with your interests. Professor Melissa Hart notes that that doing so will benefit you because, "you will do better in the class, and have more positive memories of law school." Just as students ought to experience different teaching styles, Professor Hart believes they should also, "take classes from professors whose teaching approach you appreciate."
Courses differ not just in content and professor styles, but also in testing practices. When choosing courses, Professor Hart asserts that students can, "play to your strengths. If you prefer writing papers to taking in-class timed exams, look for classes with paper options."
Student interests vary widely, and the courses offered at Colorado Law follow suit. However, if an area of study is not included in the curriculum, Professor Hart advises students to "talk to a faculty member or administrator. We may have solutions – through independent study, cross-listed options or even the possibility of adding a new course."
Develop Your Writing Skills
Professor Dayna Matthew puts it best when she advises to, "write, write, and then write some more."
Writing well is one of the most important skills that you will develop in law school. As Professor Matthew notes, "it is the skill that will most directly serve your clients, your constituents, your students and anyone you seek to influence, or on whose behalf you seek to advocate." While the importance of the first-year legal writing courses cannot be overstated, it is just as important to continue to develop this skill. This can be done through immersion in a seminar course (which is required for graduation), but can also be achieved through writing a student note for one of Colorado Law's journals, taking on upper level writing course, or choosing a course with a significant writing component.
As Professor Emeritus Waggoner suggests, students should "learn to read and listen carefully, to research and analyze creatively, and to write and speak effectively. Learn to use language as a poet and as an engineer, sometimes to clarify and sometimes as a smokescreen."
Gain Practical Experience
Colorado Law's rigorous academic offerings are complemented by a wide array of opportunties to gain practical experience. Professor Davidson notes that students will "get more out of law school if you at least sample the full range of approaches available - not just traditional classes, but seminars, clinics, externships, and research opportunities."
Professor Hart similarly urges students to "do an externship or a clinic. The practical learning experience is incredibly valuable." Expanding upon the value proposition, Professor Huntington observes that "externships and summer jobs are often the key to finding full-time employment after graduation."
Achieve a Balanced Schedule
Colorado Law alumni suggest achieving balance when selecting courses by taking some subjects to see what will spark your interest, because you enjoy the professors, or because they are on the bar exam. Think about your personal objectives, and strive for a schedule that will achieve them.
Seek Individualized Advice
No set of recommendations can fit all students. Fortunately, there are many resources available for students to get personalized advice. Professors make up a rich resource pool of individuals who are happy to meet with students. Current students and recent graduates are also often of great help. Colorado Law alumni point out that 2Ls and 3Ls are especially helpful because, "they've just finished going through their first year of law school and can provide you with their insight about what worked for them and what didn't." The Career Development Office is an enthusiastic source of guidance, and students may also reach out to other mentors, like current or former employers. What is most important, as Professor Hart suggests, is that students "find someone whose judgment you trust and who will take some time to listen to your specific interests and concerns."