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Upper-Division Course Offerings

The basic courses that most students elect to take--for example, Business Organizations, Evidence, Criminal Procedure, and Taxation--are offered every year and often twice a year. Other courses are offered once a year, or in some cases once every several years.

Each year, USC Law provides upper-division students with a wide variety of optional specialized courses. Usually, these courses reflect the research interests of the permanent faculty or the practice expertise of the adjunct faculty. Because there are specialty courses in nearly every major area of the law, students can concentrate in a particular area. Students with suggestions of courses to be offered should contact the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

Specific guidance for students in selection of upper-division courses is provided in Section 4.4 of the Student Handbook. Students are encouraged to review these materials carefully prior to registration.

Upper-Division Electives/Choosing Courses

There are no precise rules or proven methods for selecting your second and third year courses. To a large extent, your choices in this regard will reflect your assessment of yourself at the end of your first year--your strengths and weaknesses, your developing intellectual interests, and your tentative career plans. For this reason, the combination of courses most desirable for you will not necessarily be the best for anyone else, and you should be wary of the notion that there is a specific, recommended curriculum that you should follow. Nevertheless, there are several ways of thinking about courses choices that, in combination, will help each student choose the best array of courses.

The approaches to course selection described below are only some of the ways in which you might make reasoned choices about your academic program. You may have other considerations based on your own situation. In addition, you should feel free to talk to faculty members, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the Registrar, or the Student Services Office, if you want further information or informal counseling.

Intellectual Interest

You are encouraged to choose courses that look exciting, without limiting yourself to those that are directly related to your current plans or your idea of a traditional curriculum. If you believe a course will be intellectually interesting, expose you to a new area of the law, or provide you with needed variety, you have more than enough reason to enroll. Courses taken because of enthusiasm for either the instructor or the subject matter are often the richest academic experiences of law school. They represent opportunities to participate in some of the best work of some of the best minds you will ever encounter. In your growth as a law student, it is important for you not to limit yourself only to things you believe you "ought" to do.

The Instructor

Another approach to course selection is to choose courses taught by professors you admire, without regard to subject matter. For each student there are one or more teachers who are particularly able to create intellectual excitement, and whose approach to analysis and teaching strikes a responsive note. You may benefit as much from exposure to a specific professor's analytic skills and approach to legal issues as from specific course content.

Skills and Writing

In addition to learning “the law,” law students need to learn practical lawyering skills.  Employers increasingly expect students to have mastered these skills at law school and are less inclined to provide in-house, on-the-job training.  Litigators are encouraged to take Pretrial Advocacy and Trial Advocacy.  Litigation clinics, such as the Post-Conviction Justice Project, Immigration Clinic, and International Human Rights Clinic, are also superb ways for students to learn how to be a litigator.  Transactional Lawyers should consider courses such as Advanced Contracts, Deals, and Contract Negotiation and Drafting. The Small Business Clinic also provides valuable training in transactional lawyering.  All lawyers need to be excellent writers.  Students are strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the many opportunities for supervised writing, including clinics, journals, moot court, Advanced Legal Writing, Judicial Opinion Writing, and seminars requiring substantial writing.

Course Sequences

Some courses are foundational and are prerequisites to more advanced courses.  For example, Business Organizations is a prerequisite to Securities Regulation, Deals, and other advanced business law courses.  Intellectual Property is a prerequisite to many courses, including Copyright, Trademark, and Patent.  Entertainment Law is a prerequisite to other courses related to entertainment law, and Taxation is a prerequisite to advanced tax courses.  Real Estate Transactions is similarly foundational for other real estate offerings.  Students interested in these legal fields are strongly encouraged to take the prerequisites in the fall semester of their second year.


You might also think about course selection as a way of building expertise in an area of particular interest.  Section 4.4 of the Student Handbook provides detailed advice on particular legal fields.  Student interested in business law are encouraged to pursue the Business Law certificate, and those interested in careers in the entertainment industry are encouraged to enroll in the Entertainment Law certificate program.  Nevertheless, students should beware of over-specialization.  It is often hard to predict the specialty in which one will eventually practice.  In addition, no matter the specialty, a broad legal education is often useful in analyzing even the most particular legal problems and in understanding the multi-faceted legal needs of sophisticated clients.

Bar Examination

Many students seem to think that their course selection in law school will have little effect on their ability to pass the Bar Examination. For many students, that assumption is simply wrong. Particularly for the difficult California and New York Bar examinations, you will be much better prepared if you have taken most or all of the upper-division Bar-related courses: Business Organizations, Community Property, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, First Amendment, GWATS (Gifts, Wills & Trusts), Partnerships & LLCs, Remedies, Sales, and Secured Transactions. If you are planning to take a Bar exam in a different jurisdiction, you should find out which topics will be tested on that exam before planning your upper-division curriculum.  Such information can be found on each state bar’s website or by contacting the Academic Support Program staff.

All law students should take Business Organizations, Criminal Procedure, and Evidence, as these courses are tested on bar exams and are important components of any legal education.  Most students should also take First Amendment, Remedies, and Gifts, Wills & Trusts, as these topics are heavily tested on the California and New York Bar Exams.  It is especially important for students who are in the lower half of the class to take all of these courses, as doing so significantly increases the chances of passing the bar exam. Students near the top of the class can skip some of these courses, if they are willing to study hard in the months prior to the bar exam.  Community Property, Sales, Secured Transactions, and Partnerships & LLCs are also tested on the California bar exam, and students intending to take that bar should consider taking them.

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