The Juris Doctor is the basic law degree. To obtain the degree, a student must satisfactorily complete 88 units, be in full-time attendance for six semesters and attempt all required courses. Several options are available through which students may, with appropriate permission, take courses outside the Law School. Except with special permission, however, each student (including a dual degree student) must successfully complete at least 35 units beyond the first year curriculum, in law courses, taken at this law school, and graded in the normal manner. A law student is expected to devote the major portion of his or her time to law studies; any outside employment must therefore be restricted. In compliance with ABA accreditation standards, first-year students are strongly discouraged from holding part-time jobs, and second and third-year students may not hold outside employment requiring more than 20 hours work per week.
First-year students are required to carry the full load of courses which is prescribed for that year, and second- and third-year students are required to carry between 13 and 17 units each semester, unless special permission to carry a reduced or enlarged schedule is granted by the associate dean. After completion of the first full year of law study, students who are expecting a child may be given permission to carry a reduced load in their subsequent years, but they must complete all requirements for the degree within a reasonable period of time (usually within four years). All students must complete six full-time semesters.
Requirements for degrees, as well as the courses offered, may be changed by the faculty at any time. The associate dean may waive some requirements for individual students.
The First YearDuring the first year, the student takes a required curriculum of basic courses that examines fundamental legal institutions and addresses legal problems relevant to today's society and the modern practice of law.
In the fall semester, Law, Language and Ethics introduces students to the function of legal rules and concepts in the organizing of society. Drawing on the learning from a broad variety of fields including epistemology, ethics, semantic analysis, aesthetics, sociology and psychoanalysis, the course examines the underlying structure of legal argument and decision.
Torts I explores the individual's obligation to refrain from harming others and studies the bases for compensating persons who suffer injuries -- either by holding responsible whomever is at fault for the harm, or by invoking other principles of liability including the efficiency of resource allocation and spreading of losses.
Procedure introduces students to the issues of what constitutes fair, adequate and efficient procedures in resolving legal disputes. Study focuses on the procedures outlined in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Contracts studies the law regulating consensual arrangements entered into for commercial purposes. It concerns such questions as what promises do and should the state enforce and what remedies are available when enforceable promises are breached.
In the spring semester, students take Criminal Law, which studies issues relating to the decision, by legislature or court, to designate behavior as a "crime." Significant attention is given to the moral, psychological and philosophical issues involved in ascribing criminal responsibility.
Legal Profession examines the functions of the lawyer in modern society, the history and organization of the legal profession as well as lawyers' conflicting duties. It also looks into the adversary system, equal access to justice and other problems of ethics and professional responsibility.
Constitutional Law considers the delineation of spheres of responsibility between the judiciary and legislature, the nation and the state, and the government and the individual.
Property analyzes the development of rules dealing with land, water and other natural resources, frequently from historical and economic perspectives.
All students take a year long course, Legal Research, Writing and Advocacy. The course is coordinated with other first year courses, and provides students an opportunity to draft pleadings as well as to prepare legal memoranda and briefs. Toward the end of the second semester, each student participates in a moot court argument based on work previously prepared for the course.
Students study basic sources of the law -- case reports, constitutions, statutes and interdisciplinary materials. There is no uniform method of teaching, but Socratic dialogue and class discussion are primarily employed to help the students analyze issues, reasons and arguments. Moreover, Law School faculty have traditionally employed interdisciplinary approaches in analyzing legal problems. First-year classes meet in sections of 60 to 100 students, about half the class size of many law schools.
The Second and Third Years
RequirementsThe upper two years of law study are primarily elective, with only one requirement. Students must satisfy the upper division writing requirement, either by completing a major, faculty-supervised writing project, such as a dissertation, or by taking a course with a substantial writing component. Except for this requirement, the student has discretion in course selection.
Course OfferingsThe basic courses that most students elect to take -- for example, Business Organizations, Evidence, Taxation, Real Estate Transactions -- are offered every year and usually twice a year. Other courses listed are offered once a year or in some cases once every several years. Each year the Law School attempts to provide upper-division students with a wide variety of optional specialized courses. Often these reflect the research interests of the faculty. Some examples in recent years have been Biotechnology and the Law, Law and Aging, Rights of Groups, Competency and Control of the Mentally Ill, a Constitutional Theory Workshop, and a seminar in Securities Fraud Litigation. Because there are specialty courses in nearly every major area of the law, upper-division students are able to concentrate in a particular area, or, if they prefer, pursue a broad, basic legal education.
Clinical OfferingsThe upper division curriculum includes a variety of opportunities for clinical legal education. "Clinical" courses are of two kinds. First, clinical refers to courses in which the learning of legal principles occurs through actual work on cases in particular subject matter areas. For example, the law of prisoners' rights and post-conviction remedies is taught in the Post-Conviction Justice Project, a course in which students represent inmates in the Federal Correctional Institution in Los Angeles in state and federal court matters. This representation is under the direct supervision of full-time Law School faculty members. About 20 students participate each semester, traveling to the prison to meet with their clients one evening each week, attending seminars at the Law School, preparing briefs and papers, negotiating and dealing with prosecutors, prison and court personnel, and making court appearances on behalf of clients. This year, in addition to state courts and federal trial courts, students have appeared and argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The second type of clinical course concentrates on specific lawyering skills taught in a classroom setting through the use of hypothetical case materials, with actors and actresses playing the roles of clients. The best illustration of this form of clinical teaching is the three course sequence of Pretrial, Trial and Appellate Advocacy, which covers the stages in the litigation process suggested by the course titles. In these courses, students actually perform, in a simulated courtroom or law office environment, the multiple tasks required of lawyers. Most work is done in small groups; students are videotaped and intensively reviewed by the instructors. A student can take part or all of this sequence. The three courses together require the student to do at least the following: client interviewing and counseling, legal research, fact-finding, drafting of legal documents, negotiation with opposing counsel, arguing pretrial motions to a judge, preparing witnesses to testify, selecting a jury, conducting direct and cross-examination, proposing and opposing exhibits and testimonial evidence, arguing to a jury, drafting and arguing an appellate brief.
The Post-Conviction Justice Project and the advocacy courses are not the only clinical courses in the curriculum, but they are useful examples of the variety of clinical teaching. A course in a specific area of law, like the Post-Conviction Justice Project, necessarily requires students to acquire basic courtroom, negotiation and client interviewing skills. The skills-oriented advocacy courses require students to be familiar with substantive areas like evidence, procedure and the law in the area of the hypothetical client's problems. These two kinds of clinical courses supplement each other, just as substantive knowledge and expert skills do in the practice of law. Considered as a whole, USC's clinical courses provide the foundation of knowledge and skill necessary to begin the practice of law.
Judicial Externships and Clinical InternshipsThe clinical opportunities listed above are focused primarily within the Law School. In addition, there are two categories of clinical options for students to pursue outside the Law School in the actual environments of courts and law offices.
The first of these, the judicial externship program, enables students to receive credit for full- or part-time work as an extern to a judge of the state or federal court. Students are selected by the judges themselves. USC students have served as externs in the California Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, California Court of Appeal and Superior Court. During the externship, each student is supervised by the assistant dean and the placement supervisor.
The second program, the clinical internship option, allows USC law students to work in government agencies, legal services programs or other non-profit organizations under the supervision of practicing attorneys and faculty members. Students earn academic credit while providing representation to actual clients, learning important government processes or participating in large-scale impact litigation. Since the program includes more than 50 pre-approved agencies, students may choose from a wide range of clinical internships.
Individual Research ProjectsA wide variety of courses and institutes offers opportunities for upper division students to engage in individual research under faculty supervision and often in conjunction with course offerings, as well as to participate in large research projects. Projects presently underway include the uses of ocean and sea resources, the development and regulation of geothermal energy, sentencing practices in felony cases, the effects of real estate taxation, the delivery of legal service to low- and middle-income persons, the civil commitment of elderly persons, the relationships between corporate law and actual corporate practices, and theoretical studies in law and economics. Such research projects are financed by grants from the Brookings Institution, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Energy Research and Development Administration.
International Study Abroad/Exchange ProgramsThe Law School offers international study abroad/exchange programs which allow second and third year law students to earn academic credits toward their J.D. degree through study abroad.
Courses Outside the Law SchoolWith the concurrence of the associate dean, a student may receive up to 12 units of J.D. credit for courses taken outside the Law School. These courses must be on the graduate level and may only be taken at USC. Taking graduate level courses outside the Law School is an alternative to the dual degree program; a student may not pursue both approaches. With the approval of the associate dean, a student may receive a limited number of J.D. credits for undergraduate language courses taken at USC. For purposes of meeting the 35-graded-units rule, all non-law courses are counted as CR/D/F units.
A student may, with permission of the associate dean, enroll in and transfer the credit from a law course taken at another school which is a member of the Association of American Law Schools, if the course is equivalent to one included in the Law School curriculum that will not be offered here during the semester the student takes the course. Credit will be granted only for courses graded "C" or better.
Course Selection in the Upper DivisionWith such a variety of courses available, how do second and third year students go about selecting the program that will be best suited to their individual interests and ambitions?
There are no precise rules or proven methods for selecting second and third year courses. To a large extent, these choices reflect each student's personal assessment at the end of the first year -- strengths and weaknesses, developing intellectual interests and first tentative career plans. For this reason, the combination of courses most desirable for one person will not necessarily be best for anyone else. Students are urged to be wary of the notion that there is a specific, recommended curriculum to follow. But reluctance to impose a model course of study does not mean that no guidance is available, for there are at least four ways of thinking about these choices that, in combination, will help each student choose the best array of courses.
One recommended approach to course selection is to choose courses taught by professors the student admires, without regard to subject matter. For each student there are teachers who are particularly able to create intellectual excitement and whose approach to analysis and teaching strikes a responsive note. Students will benefit as much from exposure to a specific professor's analytic skills and approach to legal issues as from specific course content.
A second approach is to choose courses that look exciting, without worrying about whether such courses are directly related to the student's current career plans or to some idea of traditional curriculum. If it appears that a course will be intellectually interesting, will expose students to a new area of the law, or provide needed variety, there is already more than enough reason to enroll. Courses taken because of enthusiasm for either the instructor or the subject matter are often the richest academic experience of law school.
The third way to make decisions about taking courses is to classify them according to clusters that emphasize similar issues or themes and then select from each area. For example, a student interested in ideas about family relationships will find them discussed in different contexts in gifts, wills and trusts, family law and juvenile law. Trial Advocacy and Appellate Advocacy are courses which teach practical litigation skills, relating various performance tasks to the underlying skills of legal writing, advocacy, legal counseling, negotiation and factual analysis. A further example is courses involving close work with statutes, such as labor law, securities, regulations and tax, any of which will provide opportunities to develop important and transferable skills.
Finally, students might think about selection as a way of building a wide substantive expertise in an area of particular interest. For example, the following courses are crucial to one anticipating a substantial wills and estate planning practice: Family Law, Community Property, Taxation Seminar, Estate Planning, Real Estate Transactions, and Gifts, Wills and Trusts. This kind of course planning requires some thought and investigation, since a casual examination might omit such courses as Community Property (which may affect one's legal ability to transfer property by will), and Real Estate Transactions (since various forms of property ownership may dictate a specific will or create planning considerations).
These approaches to course selection describe only some of the ways in which students might make reasoned choices about their academic programs. Formal and informal academic counseling are available from the associate dean, the assistant deans and other faculty. In addition, students are encouraged to follow the written recommendations available in the online Student Handbook (www.usc.edu/law).