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 complete 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. Each student must also complete a minimum of 65 of the required 88 units by attendance in regularly scheduled class sessions at the law school. 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. First-year students are not permitted to hold jobs, and second- and third-year students may not hold outside employment requiring more than 20 hours of work per week.
First-year students are required to carry the full load of courses 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 dean of students. 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 dean of students may waive some requirements for individual students.
The First Year
During 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 Values introduces students to foundational concepts in legal reasoning, including theories of interpretation, the rule of law and normative reasoning.
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.
Constitutional Law focuses on fundamental structure provisions and relationships under the U.S. Constitution with an emphasis on separation of powers and federalism.
Property analyzes the development of rules dealing with land, water and other natural resources, frequently from historical and economic perspectives.
In addition to these required spring courses, first-year students will be able to choose an elective course. Elective topics may include (among other topics) a Business Basics course, a course on constitutional rights, and a course in Legal Profession with an orientation toward public interest.
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 and 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
The upper two years of law study are primarily elective, with only four requirements. First, students must satisfy the upper division writing requirement, either by completing a major faculty-supervised writing project or by taking a course with a substantial writing component.
Second, students must enroll in course work that offers substantial instruction in professional skills generally regarded as necessary for the effective and responsible participation in the legal profession. Such course work includes simulation courses (including Trial Advocacy and Pretrial Advocacy), live-client clinical offerings and courses involving the drafting of legal documents (including Contract Drafting and Negotiation).
Third, students who did not take the Constitutional Rights class as a first-year elective must take it during the second or third year of law school.
Finally, students who did not take the Legal Profession class as a first-year elective must take it during the second or third year of law school.
The basic courses that most students elect to take — for example: Business Organizations, Evidence, Taxation, and Gifts, Wills and Trusts — 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, Global Warming, Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Wrongful Convictions, Reproductive Rights, Special Education and Disability Law, and a seminar on Corporate Fraud. 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.
The 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 California Institution for Women. 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 on a regular basis, attending seminars at the law school, preparing briefs and papers, drafting habeas petitions, and negotiating and dealing with prosecutors and prison and court personnel. In addition, students make court appearances on behalf of clients in state and federal courts, as well as courts 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 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, and 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 Internships
The clinical opportunities listed previously 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 Gould students to work part-time in government agencies, legal services programs or other nonprofit 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.
Neither program is considered a regularly scheduled class session for purposes of graduation requirements.
Individual Research Projects
A 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.
Independent research completed for academic credit is not considered a regularly scheduled class session for purposes of graduation requirements.
Courses Outside the Law School
With the concurrence of the dean of students, 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 be taken only 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 dean of students, a student may receive a limited number of JD 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 dean of students, enroll in and transfer the credit from a law course taken at another school that is a member of the Association of American Law Schools, if the course is equivalent to one included in the USC Gould 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. A maximum of 5 such units may be counted toward the JD.
Courses taken outside of the law school are not considered regularly scheduled class sessions for purposes of graduation requirements.
Course Selection in the Upper Division
With 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 often lead to 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 the Children's Legal Issues Practicum. Trial Advocacy and Pretrial Advocacy are courses that 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 includes courses involving close work with statutes, such as Labor Law, Securities Regulation and Taxation, 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; 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 available via the Student Portal on the USC Gould School of Law Website.