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Important Topics in American Law
USC Gould School of Law

Monday, October 4, 2021

Shelf of law books.

The landscape of American law can seem more like a maze than a well-kept lawn for new lawyers who are getting their bearings. Law itself is incredibly broad, necessitating specialization for most. A Master of Laws (LLM) degree dives deeper into key law topics, so students can gain a richer understanding of specific areas. A course like Topics in American Law imparts knowledge such as:

  • How major legal doctrines are applied within the United States, as opposed to other countries
  • How the United States approaches criminal procedure
  • Important torts in the country
  • The handling of evidence and property as it regards to American law

Building a Foundational Understanding of American Law

Professionals interested in practicing law in the United States need a strong foundational understanding of the American legal process, and even legal professionals practicing in other countries may find that American law serves as the basis for many legal issues.. USC Gould School of Law gives students the opportunity to build a foundation and expertise in several key important topics in the American legal field, especially from key courses such as Topics in American Law.


Defamation has become a particularly important topic in American law due to the recent rise in social media and online defamation. According to The Conversation, in 2007, just 17 percent of defamation cases involved digital statements. This jumped to 53 percent in 2017. Defamation can take place in blog posts, online chat rooms, social media sites, and even in the comment section of online newspapers, blogs, and magazines.

Legal professionals have the opportunity to establish themselves in a rapidly evolving field by pursuing a specialized focus on modern defamation cases. Learning more about this topic will better prepare you for the challenging landscape you’ll find with online cases of alleged defamation.

Invasion of Right to Privacy

Invasion of privacy is a critical concern in a modern environment where one’s name and image can spread globally across the internet with the click of a button. Though each state addresses invasions of privacy differently, the primary types of invasion involve:

  • Appropriating one’s name or likeness without consent and in a way that benefits the defendant and causes injury to the plaintiff
  • Intrusion upon seclusion, in which one’s privacy is infringed upon
  • Sharing information that places an individual in a false light, which is offensive to the plaintiff even though the information may be true
  • Publicly disclosing private information

This is another area where the advent of the internet has dramatically changed the legal landscape. Individuals are now at risk for an invasion of their right to privacy in many forms. For celebrities, these forms are often disguised as journalism, though they push and often overstep the bounds of what’s legal.

In some cases, celebrities themselves have been charged with invasion of privacy for making public the plight of other citizens, as in the case of former Playmate Dani Mathers, who posted a Snapchat of a woman in her gym’s locker room without the knowledge or permission of that individual. Today’s apps and internet access create a vast new landscape for lawyers to explore here.

Negligence and Liability for People and Businesses

Negligence can result in property damage, physical injury, or death. Both individuals and businesses can face claims of negligence. It’s left to discerning lawyers to investigate the facts and determine how the law applies to each case. In the United States, there were around 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2016. In cases where these are the result of alleged employer negligence, it’s important for the law to protect the victims of these accidents.

Clinical negligence claims are another major source of cases for lawyers focusing on this specialty. An analysis published in the BMJ found that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Martin Makary, professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine stated that, “It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.”

Given the vast number of case related to negligence and liability, legal professionals who hone their expertise in this field have the opportunity to make themselves invaluable to clients and their firms.

Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Other Rights

Criminal law is a broad topic that covers many areas where definitions are notoriously unclear. This is where law professionals are tasked with stepping in to argue for the plaintiff or defendant in a case where the jury or judge might be swayed to interpret the law in one of two ways. Students who are interested in deepening their understanding of American law should take the time to explore how criminal laws differ from state to state so they can better understand how these cases are handled throughout the country.

To thoroughly understand criminal law, one must understand what qualifies as a crime, how criminal procedure takes place, and what rights are applicable to both the defendant and the plaintiff. One must also understand criminal law punishments and how these are assigned at sentencing should the defendant be found guilty.

Evidence, Witnesses, and the Hearsay Rule

In order for the defendant and plaintiff to receive a fair and valid court proceeding, individuals must follow the appropriate procedures regarding evidence. Evidence may be demonstrative, documentary, real, or testimonial. Evidence may also be classified as hearsay when it does not come from a firsthand witness.

Practicing American law, it’s crucial that you understand what evidence will stand up in our court system and how to obtain it. From ethically preparing witnesses to dealing with hearsay evidence that doesn’t come directly from the source, you must know how much weight evidence carries and how to properly use it in this legal system.

How to Stay Current With American Law

Lawyers are required to stay current with changes in American law, continuously learning, adapting, and evolving. As Mark A. Cohen explains to Forbes, “They must deliver ‘faster, better, cheaper’ legal services but never compromise on ethics.” Taking a key foundational course like Topics in American Law is one way to fortify critical knowledge and strengthen one’s educational background. Lawyers can also further their understanding of current American law by:

  • Following the way public opinion of law unfolds on social media platforms
  • Staying current with American affairs both within the framework of law and outside of it
  • Subscribing to and reading relevant legal journals
  • Engaging in legal discussion with instructors, fellow students, and other professionals

Students who want to continue their education beyond an undergraduate degree in law can begin by pursuing an LLM degree online with the USC Gould School of Law. This program is designed to meet the needs of international law professionals and law graduates seeking opportunities for a U.S.-based study of law. Connect with the Gould School of Law to learn more.


Forbes: The Future Lawyer

The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs: Keeping Up to Date with Changes in Law

The Conversation: Defamation in the digital age has morphed into litigation between private individuals

FindLaw: What Is Invasion of Privacy?

AllLaw: Understanding Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

Insureon: Professional Negligence vs. Ordinary Negligence

Attorneys: The Basics of Criminal Law

LegalZoom: Objection: Hearsay! What is the hearsay rule, and what are the exceptions to it?

FindLaw: Summary of the Rules of Evidence

FindLaw: Inheritance Law and Your Rights

NOLO: State Landlord-Tenant Laws

People: Former Playmate Dani Mathers Charged with Invasion of Privacy After Sharing Photo of Woman in Locker Room

Bureau of Labor Statistics: New Release

The Washington Post: Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States

AARP: Many Baby Boomers Look to Inherit Their Financial Stability

Fidelity Investments: Fidelity Intra-Family Generational Finance Study Executive Summary