First Year Course Descriptions

Civil Procedure

4 credits

Civil procedure focuses on the litigation process through which parties enforce legal rights by going to court. Litigation is the traditional mechanism in a common law system for disposing of disputes under the supervision and control of elected or appointed judges and subject to the coercive force of government. In civil procedure we study the rules and norms that govern noncriminal cases, in which private individuals and government may be parties. Those rules are rooted in constitutional and other sources of law. They structure the course and effects of litigation, from the filing of the lawsuit to the entry of final judgment and the determination of that judgment’s impact on the parties to the suit and others. This course will cover some of the most important aspects of the litigation process, including the determination of what court or courts (state or federal) have authority to dispose of the cases presented and what substantive rules of law are applicable. Along the way, an introduction to alternatives to this highly formalized mode of dispute resolution will be presented. Although these topics require attention to highly complex and detailed legal doctrine, at a meta-level, they involve larger theoretical issues of the power and the legitimacy of courts and the law that they apply. Just as important as the legal doctrine and theory that you will study are the skills that you will develop, including legal analysis and argumentation and the ability to think deeply and critically about how the law develops and changes.

Constitutional Law

4 credits

An introduction to American constitutional law, with an emphasis on U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The course will explore various methodologies of constitutional interpretation and modes of constitutional analysis. Topics covered include the role of the judiciary in reviewing acts of the political branches of government; the separation of powers and relations among the three branches of the federal government; the powers of the national government and federalism- based limits on Congress and the states; and individual constitutional rights.

Criminal Law

3 credits

Traditional and contemporary doctrines of substantive criminal law are analyzed, with focus on such issues as: theories of punishment, the formal elements of criminal culpability, the theory and degrees of homicide, criminal causation, inchoate crimes, accessorial and vicarious liability, conspiracy, and defenses of excuse and justification.


3 credits

Lawyering is a problem-based course in which students will serve in the role of a lawyer who must address a client problem over the course of the semester.

The course consists of three integrated components. The first introduces students to a particular line of court decisions through detailed critical reading and analysis. Based on their understanding of these court decisions, in the second component students will explore the relationship between case theory and fact investigation. Students will gain an understanding of informal and formal methods of investigating facts and relevant ethical rules. Students may develop a fact investigation plan, gather facts from both documentary and individual sources, and assess how the facts gathered bear on their client’s problem or affect their client’s potential case theories. In the third component, students will produce a written work product (e.g., a client letter) that conveys their understanding and analysis of the relevant law and facts.

Overall, this course will engage students in a range of lawyering activities, call on students to generate various types of lawyer work product, and provide students with feedback on their work product. Students will generate work product for each of the three components of the course. Students may be asked to work in small groups to produce a single work. Faculty assessment of a student’s work product, including work produced with other students in a small group, will form the basis for the grade in the course.


4 credits

What promises are legally enforceable? Why does the law enforce those promises? What does it mean to enforce a promise? This course explores those questions, using the basic concepts, principles, and doctrines of contract law, sometimes called “the law of broken promises.” Specific topics include the requirements for formation of a contract (such as offer and acceptance), justifications for enforcing promises (such as consideration or detrimental reliance), justifications for denying or limiting enforcement (such as unconscionability or mistake), interpretation of contract terms, and remedies for breach of contract.

Legislation and Regulation

3 credits

For all intents and purposes, programs enacted by state and federal legislatures dominate the social and legal landscape, affecting all of us every day and in myriad ways. The modern legal system is, in large degree, the product of both legislatures and complex bureaucratic structures known as agencies, which engage in legislative implementation. Outside the area of constitutional law, the courts today function largely as interpreters of the product of legislatures (known as statutes) and also as reviewers of the legality of the actions taken by agencies to implement statutes. No lawyer today can reasonably hope that his or her clients can escape the far-reaching jurisdiction of state and federal agencies that both regulate private activity and dispense various benefits, many of which are deemed fundamental in today’s society. Nor can any competent lawyer adequately serve his or her client without a reasonably sophisticated understanding of the interpretive techniques utilized by courts in “uncovering” the meaning of statutes.

This course has three main goals: first, to offer students an overall sense of how the legislative, administrative, and judicial arms of government interrelate in governing our society under a constitutional system of checks and balances; second, to familiarize them with the process of law-making and law-application as it is conducted in legislative bodies and in administrative agencies; and, third, to introduce them to the process of statutory interpretation both in theory and practice.

Legal Analysis and Writing

4 credits

Students in this first year course will begin to develop the art of analytical legal writing. In classes, students engage in discussions and practical exercises as they learn to analyze cases, statutes and other authorities. The course emphasizes student development in the following skills: organizing the analysis of legal issues logically and coherently; expressing written legal analysis clearly, concisely, and effectively; developing and defending legal arguments, both in writing and orally; performing basic legal research; drafting selected legal documents; and using proper citation form. Exercises and other assignments promote the students’ awareness and appreciation of relevant ethical standards.


4 credits

Property law, broadly defined, governs relationships among people with respect to “things.” These “things” include land (“real property”), tangible objects such as a casebook (“personal property”), and intangibles such as a publisher’s right to prevent others from reproducing the original content in a book (“intellectual property”). The Property Course examines how property rights may be limited, in situations where more than one person has rights to the same piece of property, and in situations where one owner’s rights must be balanced against the rights of the owner of a separate piece of property.

Topics covered in the Property Course may include: modes of acquisition of property (e.g., capture, find, creation), present possessory estates and future interests, co-ownership of property, marital property, landlord-tenant law, land sales, title recording systems, easements, restrictive covenants, nuisance, public land use regulation (including zoning, eminent domain, and the issue of regulatory takings), and global property issues.


4 credits

This course explores the methods and policies for allocating losses from harm to one’s person, property, relations, and economic and other interests. The course covers the substantive principles of tort claims and their defenses. The course examines the three main theories of tort liability: intent, negligence, and strict liability and analyzes the theoretical and practical aspects of tort liability.