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2L: Skills Development

Category Overview

Alumni often report that skills-intensive courses and experiences provided some of their most valuable takeaways from Penn Law.  Consequently, in addition to expanding and deepening their knowledge of the substantive law, second-year students should also be thinking about how to build on the base of legal practice and professional skills they acquired in the first year.

Effective with the Class of 2019, JD students must complete one or more experiential courses totaling at least 6 credit hours to graduate. Nearly 60 courses in Penn Law’s curriculum – including all clinics and externships – have been classified as experiential for this purpose. Students can identify which experiential courses are offered during a given semester through an annotation on the course planning spreadsheet that will be distributed by email and posted to the Registrar’s website (check the column labeled “Exp”) and can search for experiential courses in the online Course Finder via the drop-down category menu. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Registrar’s office at with any questions about the experiential-learning requirement.

This page, and its 3L counterpart, focus on courses that are primarily geared toward the development of practice and professional skills and satisfy the experiential-learning graduation requirement described above. But that is not to say that courses not listed do not include skills-development components. All of the classes the Law School offers help students develop skills in one way or another. Content-specific courses typically teach the foundational analytical capabilities that underpin all types of legal practice, and many also include activities and exercises, like working in teams and drafting various types of documents, that help students build other legal practice and professional skills.  The courses listed on this page and its 3L counterpart tend to be more practice-oriented, focusing on practice simulations or analyzing the subject matter from a practitioner’s perspective.  Course descriptions and syllabi should give students a sense of what types of skill-building activities particular courses include.

As part of a well-rounded curriculum of study, all students are encouraged to build their management and executive skills by enrolling in the Wharton Certificate of Management course (register for Business Management, LAW 550) at some point during their second or third year. The course teaches management, leadership, strategic decision-making, and basic financial and accounting literacy skills that are essential to success as a lawyer today across all practice areas and career paths.

In terms of legal practice skills, students may want to think of the second year as a bridge between the basic first-year Legal Practice Skills course and some of the more complex experiential opportunities that, while available to all upper-level students, may best be pursued after students have a little more training under their belts. As such, second-year students may want to focus on the “building block” courses for particular skills and practice areas described below, at least for the first semester of their 2L year, before proceeding to the more advanced experiential courses, externships, and clinics detailed at the 3L Key Skills Development page and on the Clinics and Externships pages.

“Building block” courses allow students to focus on discrete skills like contract drafting, brief writing, or negotiation, and provide a solid foundation for courses that require students to use and apply multiple skills in an integrated way. For the most part, however, these courses are not prerequisites for the more advanced courses, and may be taken in either the second or third year.  In addition, many second-year students will choose to take clinics and externships in tandem with these building block courses, so that they may have time in their third year to take a second clinic or externship to deepen their practical and professional skill development.

Second-year students can also develop their practice and other professional skills by engaging in pro bono work. All 2Ls are required to complete at least 35 hours of pro bono work, and we encourage 2Ls to think strategically about how pro bono can best complement their coursework and summer internships to create a complete array of professional experience and skill development. Many 2Ls immerse themselves in pro bono projects because they have found them to be wonderful opportunities to deepen their interest in a particular area of law, to represent clients, to assist in complex litigation, or to engage in community education projects that hone their communication skills. Students can work with the Toll Public Interest Center staff to develop pro bono internships with any number of non-profit or government agencies that welcome student assistance, or they can join our almost 30 student pro bono projects. In fact, many of our students lead those pro bono initiatives. For information about pro bono opportunities, please contact the TPIC staff at

Finally, as in all three years of Law School, second-year students are also encouraged to think about their extra- and co-curricular activities in skills-development terms. Students should engage in the Center on Professionalism’s 30+ skills programs and practice skills exploration opportunities, all designed to fuel the growth of executive skills.  Co-curricular activities like journals, LawMeets, mock trial, and the Keedy Cup preliminaries and other moot court competitions are a great way to build practice skills. Second-year students often gain valuable management and leadership training by organizing and running student pro bono projects. They may also gain organizational expertise by helping arrange programming for one of Penn Law’s many student groups.

Second-year students should also be advised that some of the 3L skills-development opportunities (particularly the co-curricular opportunities like student organization leadership, journal boards, and serving as a Littleton Fellow) require some advance work in the second year. For example, the journal board selection and Littleton Fellow application processes take place in January of the second year. Student organizations will also select new leadership during the spring semester of the second year.

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“Building Block” Courses By Areas of Interest:

(Links for Fall 2017 courses included below. Listed courses satisfy the experiential-learning graduation requirement.)

Litigation Skills

  • Appellate Advocacy (LAW 612) (link connects to Course Finder generally; multiple sections of this course are offered in Fall 2017; one section is offered in the Spring):   Students interested in sharpening their litigation writing and oral advocacy skills may want to take this course.  Although not a prerequisite, it is a valuable precursor to moot court competitions, including the Keedy Cup Preliminaries that take place during the spring semester. 
  • Trial Advocacy (LAW 702) (Fall and Spring Semesters, two sections offered in the Fall; link connects to Course Finder generally):  This is a credit-fail skills course that focuses on direct examination, cross-examination, objections, opening statements, and closing arguments.  Students must have taken Evidence or enroll in it concurrently.  The course is useful for second-year students who are interested in taking the Civil Practice Clinic, Criminal Defense Clinic, Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic, or any other litigation-oriented clinic or externship.  Other students may consider taking this class in their third year.  LAW702001 is a mandatory prerequisite for students interested in trying out for the Penn Law National Mock Trial Competition team. 
  • Writing for Practice (LAW 543, also offered in Spring 2018): Building on the first-year Legal Practice Skills course, this class offers students the opportunity to produce multiple, shorter writing assignments of varying levels of formality and refine their informal oral presentation skills.  It is offered in both the fall and spring semesters.
  • Discovery Methods (LAW 578):  This course offers students the opportunity to learn and practice written and oral discovery methods.  Useful for students who are interested in litigation careers in the public or private sector.
  • Thinking Like a Litigator (LAW 911):  This course uses a group of hypothetical cases to allow students opportunities to practice litigation strategy, drafting, and deposition skills.
  • Civil Pretrial Litigation (LAW 757, offered in Spring 2018):  Simulation course that takes a mock case from initial client contact through settlement.
  • Advanced Writing & Practice: Federal Civil Litigation (LAW595, offered in Spring 2018): Following the progression of a lawsuit, this course offers students opportunities to learn best practices for written advocacy.       Includes writing assignments related to initial pleadings, written discovery, and motion practice.

Transactional / Drafting Skills

  • Contract Drafting (LAW 950, one section in the Fall and two sections offered in Spring 2018):  Focuses on drafting basic agreement terms.  Students consider and understand the elements of business deals and learn how to use contract concepts to accurately reflect the parties’ understanding and to use drafting to seek advantage and discern and resolve business issues.
  • Transactional Drafting (LAW 915, also offered in Spring 2018):  Teaches students skills necessary to allow them to more quickly produce high-quality drafts of transactional contracts.  Topics covered include basic business structures, differences among various types of transactional contracts (asset/stock purchase agreements, shareholders’ agreements, and customer/vendor contracts), and critical provisions common to all contracts.
  • In-House Counsel / Corporate Generalist (LAW 545):  Exposes students to matters and issues handled by in-house corporate generalists.  In addition to substantive law, students will begin to develop business acumen and will practice multi-tasking, prioritizing, and speaking and writing concisely.
  • Real Estate Finance (LAW 675, offered in Spring 2018)
  • Business Immigration (LAW 560)

Broadly Applicable Practice Skills

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Students who have questions about skills development, or would like to talk through this aspect of their Penn Law experience, are encouraged to contact:


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