Choosing Your Curriculum
Course descriptions are posted at http://law.newark.rutgers.edu/students/master-course-list. While the following information is primarily for students who are just beginning the upper-class curriculum, primarily students in their 2L class year, it also should be useful to students in their 3L class year. Part-time, evening students in their 1L class year might also pay some attention to this advice when beginning to make curricular choices in the Spring semester.
The Required Curriculum
The required core curriculum includes the following eight courses: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, Torts, and Legal Analysis, Writing and Research Skills I & II. In addition, following completion of the core curriculum, students must successfully complete either Professional Responsibility or Legal Profession, the upper class writing requirement, and the skills training requirement to graduate.
Full-time students complete the required core curriculum in the Fall and Spring semesters of the first year of law school. In the Summer before beginning law school, full-time students are asked for their preferences regarding an “early track” or “late track.” Upon assignment to a track, the balance of the first year curriculum is set by the administration. Part-time students complete the required core curriculum over the first four semesters (including the 1LE summer semester). Sections for the required core curriculum are set by the Dean’s Office and are not subject to reassignment except in extraordinary circumstances.
Although students will generally complete the required core curriculum within the above timeframe, under certain circumstances, students will not have successfully completed all of the required classes as planned. In those cases, students must take any class not successfully completed the next time it is offered. These circumstances occur when a student:
- has received a grade of “F” in a required course;
- did not take a required course when it was first offered to his/her class (as when the student was on leave of absence during that semester);
- has been required by the Committee on Scholastic Standing to repeat a course;
- has transferred from part-time to full-time status before completion of the required core curriculum;
- has transferred from full-time to part-time status before completion of the required core curriculum; or
- has transferred from another law school that did not permit the student to take one or more such courses before transferring.
Students for whom one of the above circumstances applies must have their proposed program of student approved by the Senior Associate Dean to ensure timely completion of the required core curriculum. Only designated sections of required core curriculum courses are open to upper-class students. You must secure prior permission to register for these courses. Please speak with the Registrar to obtain the section, course, and registration numbers for these courses. Permission to defer taking a required course when it is next given may be granted only by the Senior Associate Dean.
Students who delay complying with these requirements may be closed out of their preferred sections of upper-class and required courses. Students who do not register for a required course which they must complete may be dropped from one of their elective courses and reassigned to a section in the required course..
As detailed more fully in the Student Handbook, there are few absolute requirements that you must meet after you have completed the required curriculum.
- First, you must take a course in professional ethics: either the three-credit Professional Responsibility course or the two-credit Legal Profession course. A grade of C or better in either course excuses those taking the New Jersey Bar Exam from taking the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Exam (“MPRE”). Note, however, that waiver from the MPRE is not available in New York.
- Second, you must satisfy the upper-class writing requirement, by either: (1) writing a paper of 25 pages (7000 words) or more of critical legal analysis in a seminar, independent study, or other academic enterprise, (2) successfully completing a clinic in which substantial writing is required, or (3) writing a brief in a moot court or mock trial competition or advocacy course, in which you are the sole author. Jointly authored works cannot be used to satisfy the writing requirement, even if permitted by the instructor for accountability in the course. Note that writing is a critical skill for lawyers, so doing writing beyond that necessary to meet the minimum requirement is advisable.
- Third, students must take at least 60 credits in “professional law subjects,” defined as regularly scheduled classes and seminars offered by the law school (or, in the case of transfer students, by another law school). Credits for the following enterprises DO NOT count toward fulfilling this requirement: clinics, work on journals, participation in moot court and mock trial competitions, independent research, work as a teaching or research assistant, externships or field placements, and classes taken in disciplines other than law (even if taken at another unit of the University).
- Fourth, you must successfully complete 84 credits of coursework (which includes credits earned for the required core curriculum). Of these, a minimum of 75 must be “hard” credit. (A full explanation of what is “hard” credit and what is “soft” or “unscheduled” credit can be found by clicking here.)
- Fifth, you must complete a minimum of one “skills” course from this list of courses. (July 2014 advisory: the ABA House of Delegates, at its August 2014 meeting, is going to consider adoption of a requirement that all law students complete at least six credits of skills training coursework prior to graduation.)
In addition to the above requirements, please note the following requirements relevant to preparation for the bar examination:
- First, students who have a required core curriculum GPA lower than 2.7 must submit their curricular choices for review and approval by the Senior Associate Dean. The requirement was adopted by the faculty in the Fall of 2006 to help ensure that students who struggled in their first year select coursework that will adequately prepare them for the rigors of the bar examination.
- Second, students who have a required core curriculum GPA lower than 2.70 must take Legal Analysis in the Fall semester of the second year for full-time students and in the Spring semester of the second year for part-time students.
- Third, students who have a required core curriculum GPA of 2.95 or lower must successfully complete the Advanced Common Law Capstone (4 credits) in the final year of study. The requirement was adopted by the faculty in the Spring of 2014 to provide a comprehensive review of topics tested on the New Jersey bar examination. Please note that this course is offered once a year in the Spring semester.
Choosing Elective Courses
A number of factors should inform your curricular decisions, including: (1) preparing for the bar exam, (2) familiarizing yourself with the fundamentals of the substantive law in areas where you are likely to practice, (3) honing skills (writing, advocacy, negotiation, etc.) necessary to be an effective lawyer, and (4) satisfying your intellectual curiosity. There are no talismanic rules for choosing courses. Nevertheless, you need to select a balance of offerings that expose you to a variety of subjects and skills and give you the versatility demanded of lawyers. Do not be tempted to choose courses on the basis of the average grade of the course or scheduling convenience. While it may not seem so now, your time in law school is precious; you may well miss out on opportunities to become a well-rounded lawyer by choosing courses on such bases.
The Bar Exam
Obviously, passing the bar exam is critically important, but do not let the bar exam dominate your curricular choices. Law school is not an extended bar review course. That said, we provide below some basic information on the subject areas covered by the bar exams most of you will take, New Jersey and New york.
The New Jersey and New York bar exams each have two parts: a Multi-State Exam and a State Exam.
The Multi-state Bar Exam (“MBE”), the 200-question multiple choice exam that comprises part of the bar exam of all states except Louisiana and the District of Columbia. The MBE tests on six major areas: Contracts, Torts, Real Property, Criminal Law/Procedure, Constitutional Law, and Evidence. Beginning with the February 2015 administration of the bar exam, a seventh subject matter – Civil Procedure – will be added to the exam. Subject matter outlines for the issues covered on the MBE are online at http://www.ncbex.org/assets/media_files/Information-Booklets/MBEIB2014.pdf.
Each student who has finished the required dore curriculum has already covered three of the subjects somewhat completely, and two others (Criminal Law/Procedure and Constitutional Law) in significant part, leaving only Evidence and possibly Criminal Procedure to take as elective courses, to cover all the MBE subjects.
The essay portion of the New Jersey bar exam consists of seven essay questions. Six of the questions focus on one or more of the six MBE subjects (and generally do not require knowledge of local New Jersey law); the seventh question focuses on both federal and New Jersey civil procedure. The Bar Examiners have stated that the New Jersey essay questions “may be framed in the context of fact situations involving, and interrelated with, the following subjects: agency; conflicts of law; corporations; equity; family law; partnership; Uniform Commercial Code Articles 2 (Sales), 3 (Commercial Paper), and 9 (Secured Transactions); wills, trusts, and estates; zoning and planning; and disciplinary rules.” Accordingly, the Bar Examiners advise, “familiarity with the basic principles and concepts of those subjects may help the candidate in answering the questions.”
New York currently may test: Business Relationships (including agency, business corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships and joint venture); Civil Practice and Procedure (New York and Federal); Conflicts of Laws; New York and federal Constitutional Law; Contracts and Contracts Remedies; Criminal Law and Procedure; Evidence; Matrimonial and Family Law; Professional Responsibility; Real Property; Torts and Tort Damages, Trusts, Wills and Estates; and Uniform Commercial Code Articles 2, 3* and 9. Questions on the local portion of New York bar exam are generally based on New York law. The New York State Bar Examiners have provided a “content outline” at http://www.nybarexam.org/Content/ContentOutline.htm.
*Effective with the July 2014 bar exam, New York will no longer test UCC Article 3 – Negotiable Instruments – on the New York section of the bar exam. Effective with the February 2015 exam, Administrative Law will be added to the list of subject matters tested on the New York section of the bar exam.
Anticipated Area of Practice
Choosing some of your classes with an eye toward gaining substantive knowledge related to your anticipated area of practice is sensible. However, legal careers often follow quite unanticipated paths. Often opportunities will arise that take one into new and very different areas of practice. Much more often than you might imagine, lawyers find themselves making careers in areas they did not contemplate in law school. Thus, you should be very cautious about focusing too narrowly on a particular subject area.
Intellectual Curiosity (Seminars)
We mentioned intellectual curiosity as a factor in course selection. Such curiosity may carry students in various directions. We want to note here our interesting selection of seminars. As many of you know from your undergraduate education, seminars are small classes that proceed by discussion rather than lecture and often require the student to develop a topic of interest into a project or paper. Seminars are also more likely to be quite focused on areas of the faculty member’s current research or practice interest, and thus involve areas in which the faculty member is giving concentrated thought. You might do well to consider taking at least one or two such offerings.
Curricular Choices of Your Predecessors
The recent curricular choices made by students may provide you with a different and useful perspective. This chart represents the elective choices for traditional classroom courses made by students in classes of recent graduates. (Because transfer students sometimes arrive at Rutgers having already taken a core elective course such as Evidence, these percentages might slightly understate the number of students who actually took classes in certain subjects. In addition, this chart represents the combined choices of day and evening students, and a few of the courses are predominantly taken by one group or the other.) Of course, what students ACTUALLY take and what students SHOULD take is not the same thing. Permit us to offer the following observations.
Statute-Based Subjects. Students are often tempted to avoid statute-based courses, such as Federal Income Tax, Commercial Law, and Debtor-Creditor Law. Most practicing lawyers, however, will probably tell you that the great majority of legal work is done in areas governed by one or more comprehensive statutes. Accordingly, we firmly believe that law students do themselves a great disservice by avoiding “code based” courses. Perhaps the tendency to shy away from such courses reflects a perception that those courses are particularly difficult. However, you will almost inevitably confront statute-based areas in your practice. Avoiding such courses will leave you unprepared for legal practice, putting you in the unfortunate situation of having to figure out such statutes on the fly without the support of an academic setting, and when a great deal may be at stake. More generally, avoiding such courses will likely leave you with a distorted perception of the importance of the courts, in particular, that law is almost exclusively developed by courts and rarely in any meaningful way by legislatures and administrative agencies.
Skills Courses. You are now required to take one or more “skills” course, such as Negotiations, Trial Presentation, or Appellate Advocacy, among others. (Click here for full list.) Effective lawyering is measured not only by knowledge of substantive law, but by the skills and techniques necessary to put that knowledge to practical use. (And indeed, American Bar Association standards for law schools have recently been changed to provide that each student should receive “substantial instruction” in professional skills. While we have not yet formally established a professional skills course graduation requirement, students should give due weight to the ABA’s views on legal education.) Of course, our clinics also teach skills in a practical setting, and up to two-thirds of our students take at least one clinical course at some time before graduation. However, you should not take so many skills courses that you do not have an opportunity to take an array of substantive classes, as we fear some students have done.
Global and Transnational Courses. Increasingly, law is becoming a global and transnational discipline. We, therefore, encourage you to take one or more courses that approach law from that perspective. Our faculty has expertise in a range of particular areas of international law, e.g., International Trade, International Law, International Criminal Law, International Taxation, and International Protection of Human Rights.