- General Points of Consideration
- Summaries of the 1L Electives
- Tips for Online Course Bidding
- Closing Thoughts
The bulk of the first year classes are required. For a description of the required 1L courses (civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, legal practice skills, and torts) please see course descriptions here.
Also, to review the JD Course Requirements, please see here (this page discusses how many credits you need to graduate).
In late October 2017, 1Ls can register for two spring electives. This course registration period offers 1Ls their first chance to make course selection decisions and shape their curriculum. Consequently, first year students must make these choices with due care, and with an eye toward long-term planning. With this in mind, this portion of the Compass will present guidance to assist 1L students in this process. To do this, this section will first offer general points of consideration, then offer summaries of the electives, followed by tips for online bidding, and, finally, will offer some closing thoughts.
For a video on faculty flash talks re their Spring electives, please go here.
General Points of Consideration
Consider Each Course’s “Fit” in Your Curricular Goals
Fall semester of 1L year serves as an introduction to the study of law. Time in law school can pass quickly, however, and students must consider their overall curricular plans sooner than they might initially think. Consequently, when selecting 1L electives, Penn Law students should consider how each elective “fits” into their course planning goals. The paragraphs below provide some guidance on this.
Law, like many other fields of study, contains both “foundational” courses – classes that provide introductions to certain subject areas – and advanced or more specific courses. Students with already defined interests can take foundational classes earlier rather than later, which then opens up time to take more detailed courses later in law school. As an example of this, students very interested in real estate and property issues should consider taking Property (Law 508) in the spring semester.
To determine how certain courses fit into fields of study, the “Summaries of 1L Electives” section (found below) contains course descriptions and categorizations for the electives. Further, the Compass’ Areas of Focus present roadmaps for various fields of study, such as Health Law, Business & Transactional Law, etc. So, for example, students can note in the “Summaries of 1L Electives” that Bankruptcy (Law 646) is listed as a foundational or related course for four Areas of Focus: Business & Transactional Law, Civil Litigation: Practice & Procedure, Property & Real Estate Law, and Tax Business Planning & Estate Planning. Then, the student could read up on each Area of Focus to decipher how Bankruptcy can fit into certain fields of study. Further, for questions on how a certain elective fits into a broader subject area, students are welcome to speak to the faculty members teaching courses of interest about this.
Please note, while students should have an articulable reason for taking each 1L elective, there is generally no need, this early on in law school, to establish a crystal-clear linkage between a certain course and set academic or career inclinations. Students who eventually become bankruptcy lawyers do not all take Bankruptcy in the spring, and the same can be said for IP lawyers or lawyers working in the international sphere. Moreover, lawyers practicing in fields far removed from bankruptcy may have found the course to be one of the most fulfilling and broadly applicable courses in law school. Keep in mind, 1L is still a time for general exploration, and every single course taken need not fall neatly in line with certain defined aspirations.
All this being said, it remains worthwhile to reiterate: ability to articulate a reason for taking a certain class is important. Subsequently, for each class selected, the law student should be able to communicate a reason for taking the class – be it possible career motivations, an interest in the subject matter, or an awareness of the broad applicability of a course. Reading course descriptions, perusing the various Areas of Focus, and engaging in personal reflection can generate a student’s reasons for taking a particular course.
Do Your Due Diligence
Connect with upper-level mentors (Littleton Fellows, Morris Fellows, leaders of your student groups, etc.) to learn more about certain courses and professors. Note that the Registrar’s office (Golkin 103) has copies of grade distributions for 1L electives. Reach out to administrators (e.g. Dean Monroe and Dimitri in Student Affairs, Lauren Owens in International Programs, Arlene Finkelstein in TPIC, etc.) to talk about various courses and personal curricular inclinations. Read course evaluations of past courses on mycourses (1L elective evals are available in hard copy in Golkin 103, but the online evals can still provide info on 1L professors - just search by professor name). Feel free to seek out professors who teach certain courses. In general, try and accumulate as much information and data as possible on courses of interest.
Practicality vs. Life of the Mind?
Sometimes, 1L students wonder whether they should take classes purely for practical and easily articulable reasons, or whether they should explore courses that spark their intellectual curiosity, but do not lend themselves to easy explanations or justifications. There is, of course, no clear answer to this inquiry. With this noted, students should strive for a good balance – and select a slate of classes that speak both to their defined inclinations and, at times, more general curiosities. Students should of course be mindful of the suggested foundational and advanced coursework for various Areas of Focus (such as Civil Litigation: Practice and Procedure, Business & Transactional Law, Health Law, etc.), but should also note that occasional classes with no immediately clear justifications can pay dividends down the line.
Note, the above guidance is not intended to give students license to explore all areas of interest in a whimsical and haphazard manner. Quite the contrary, selecting courses is a difficult endeavor, and must be approached with seriousness. Students must remain aware of the body of courses needed to explore a particular field of law coherently. An occasional course that resonates with a student but doesn’t speak directly to his/her defined aspirations, however, should certainly still be considered.
Type of Grading
While fall semester 1Ls have not yet sat for law school exams, students should consider the type of grading they would prefer for the spring semester. Some 1L electives offer research papers, rather than in-class or take-home exams, as the method of grading. Some students enjoy producing such work. Other students have a pre-existing distaste for writing papers, and would prefer to stick to exams. Whichever the preference may be, law students should be mindful of the ways courses will be graded.
In addition, you should be mindful of the type of in-class exam each professor likely will give. For example, if you have a distaste for multiple choice exams, and you know that your Criminal Law exam (for example) is a multiple choice exam, you might want to avoid taking an elective that also has a multiple choice exam.
NOTE ALSO: Per our grading policies, 1L Regulatory Electives are required to conform to the standard 1L curve, but 1L General Electives are NOT required to conform to this curve.
Summaries of the 1L Electives
A description of the 1L electives for Spring 2018 TBD can be found on the Course Finder.
Further, you can peruse the various Areas of Focus to determine how certain courses are foundational to certain subject fields.
Relatedly, you can look up evaluations of past classes on mycourses. (1L elective evals are available in hard copy in Golkin 103, but the online evals can still provide info on 1L professors - just search by professor name).
Finally, a video of faculty flash talks re their spring electives can be found here.
Tips for Online Course Bidding
To make requests during Advanced Course Registration, you must use Penn in Touch. Use of the online advanced course registration system does not guarantee placement in spring semester courses, but 1L electives rarely fill to capacity. Moreover, while trends from past years are not necessarily indicative of the future enrollments, they can be helpful to see. To view class enrollments for the past couple of years (including 2016-17 data), please see the “Registration Archives” available when you scroll down this page.
1L electives offer first year students their very first chance to take the driver’s seat and make some of their own course selections. As delineated above, such decisions should be made carefully, and after ample consideration. As always, the Curricular Compass should be a starting point – not an ending point – for curriculum exploration. Students should feel free to reach out to peers, Littleton Fellows, Morris Fellows, other upper-level mentors, administrators, and faculty as needed. Remember, there are no “wrong” selections to be made here, but students should strive to make educated, informed decisions on this front. Good luck with this process, and enjoy the additional bit of freedom and flexibility that the Spring offers!