law school
A 1973 film, The Paper Chase, aptly depicts (albeit in a dramatized fashion) the challenges that 1Ls face when starting law school, including the Socratic Method.

The most important year in your law school career is the first year (i.e., the “1L Year”).  Your first-year grades determine your second-year job interview chances, which most students rely on to find a post-grad job.  Furthermore, the higher your grades, the higher your chances of scoring that sweet six-figure salary. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect before heading into that dreadful 1L year.

Most schools follow the same 1L curriculum: civil procedure, criminal law, constitutional law, contracts, torts, and property.

Civil Procedure

Civil procedure is the study of the rules parties have to follow when suing or defending a lawsuit in a civil action in federal court.  Civil action generally means claims for money. The civil procedure rules are different than the criminal procedure rules. To set yourself up for the final, know about jurisdiction.  The bulk of your class will be on personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction means that the court has power over the defendant. If the court doesn’t have this power, the court cannot force the defendant to be there.  Generally, to have personal jurisdiction over someone, that person or corporation must have availed themselves of the forum (live in/work in that state). Subject matter jurisdiction means the federal court has the power to hear that type of case. Because this is federal court, and not state court, the parties have to be from different states and the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000.

Criminal Law

Everyone knows crime.  We’ve seen it in books, movies, and real life.  But most people don’t walk into their criminal law class knowing things like actus reus, mens rea, inchoate crimes, etc.  Basically, to commit a crime, a person has to have the requisite level of knowledge that they’re doing something wrong. There are different levels of culpability, such as malice, recklessness, negligence, mistake, etc.  Different crimes have different levels. You know that first-degree murder requires an intent to kill. Burglary, on the other hand, requires only that you enter into a place unlawfully with an intent to commit a crime. Know about the mental states, accomplice liability, and justifications (self-defense) and you’ll be all set for the final.

Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is the study of how the Supreme Court has interpreted the U.S. Constitution throughout the years.  Some professors will jump straight to the substance. Others will provide background on theory. Know your different schools of thought, such as legal realism versus textualism.  These are theories on which the judges rely on to read and apply the Constitution and statutes and shape our understanding of the law. Some judges want to interpret the law based on how society will be affected.  Others want to interpret the law based on strict adherence to the written text. Know which judge follows which theory. Know your levels of scrutiny. Generally, when the judges come across a certain type of case that should follow a certain type of law, they will apply different standards of review based on precedent.  These standards of review can range from rational basis, (a lower standard for the party fighting for the law, usually the government, to pass), to strict scrutiny (a much, much more difficult threshold to pass).

Contracts

A contract is an agreement between parties to do something for the other (provide a benefit, pay money, etc.).  Generally, a contract requires an offer, acceptance, and consideration. Someone makes an offer to form a contract by telling or showing someone else that they intend to make a contract with that person.  The other person accepts by telling or showing them that, why yes, they accept. Finally, there needs to be some consideration, which means that this contract is not for made up things – there’s something at stake here.  Easy enough right? Not so much. There are lots of little rules that govern the formation of a contract. There is even a whole set of different rules for contracts for the sale of goods. Furthermore, there are rules for what happens when a party breaches the contract, when a party lacks the capacity to form a contract, when a third party is involved, etc.  I wish you the best of luck.

Torts

Torts law applies when someone has inflicted harm on another in some way, causing that person to suffer physically, economically, or both.  The injured person can recover damages from the tort committer. Torts law falls into two categories: intentional torts and negligence. Intentional torts are just that – somebody intentionally caused harm to another.  You know these as assault and battery, slander or libel, trespass, and theft. Know that to hold someone responsible for an intentional tort, you have to show that they intended to cause harm (except for, oddly enough, intentional infliction of emotional distress, which only requires that someone acted recklessly).  The fun part of torts is negligence. Proving that someone is negligent requires proving four things: that person had a duty to the person harmed; he breached his duty; the breach was the cause of the injury; and damages. Know what those words mean, and you will ace that final.

Property

Walking into property class for the first time is like walking into a game of Minesweeper.  Most of Property in 1L deals with real property – land, houses, and stuff like that. But that entails any number of things.  For example, the nature of the property itself. There are these things called possessory estates, which means the type of possession a certain person or group of people have over the property at the time.  And judges and professors provide us with terms like fee simple absolute, fee tails, defeasible fees, life estates, etc. These are the categories the possessors fall in when it comes to ownership of the land.  There are also future interests, which are interests that people may have in the land in the future, even hundreds of years from now.  Hopefully, your professor won’t have you learn the Rule of Perpetuities (YouTube it). After learning about estates, you’ll probably move on to fun things like landlord-tenant law, easements, mortgages and land-sale contracts.  Surviving property means learning as many new words as you can in the quickest way you can. Again, I wish you the best of luck.

There it is – a breakdown of your entire 1L year. Learn how to spot the issues mentioned above quickly. Learn how to IRAC, as they will teach you in Legal Writing class. Good luck. Go get those good grades.

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