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3L: Classes

3Ls possess perhaps the widest array of choices and options at Penn Law.  Many 3Ls have taken foundational courses in topical areas of interest, have two summers of legal work under their belts, and have thought carefully about the skills and substantive knowledge that can be gained in the final year of legal study.  All of these factors can drive a 3Ls course selection decisions.  Additionally, to assist in this process, this portion of the Compass presents numerous considerations for third year students, starting with an important review of the curriculum’s credit requirements.    

Credit Requirements (i.e. the “Nuts and Bolts”)

To view specific credit and graduation requirements (e.g. how many credits a JD student needs to graduate, the credit limit on clinics, externships, etc.), please go to the JD Degree Requirements Page here.  This is a critical page, and all JD students should be familiar with it.

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General Advice

By 3L year, most students are accustomed to course registration and the myriad considerations that play into course selection decisions.  This being said, there are some useful principles for third year students to keep in mind:

Refer to the “Areas of Focus” in this Guide

Students should be aware of the “introductory” or “fundamental” upper level courses for a variety of topical areas.  The Areas of Focus present the “introductory” courses for a variety of fields (such as IP, Environmental Law, etc.).  Many 3L students have taken key foundational courses, and choose to explore the “further exploration” courses for a particular Area with more vigor in the third year, along with pursuing the most advanced clinical and experiential opportunities in a given Area.      

For 3L students who discover interest in a particular Area later in the game, don’t fret.  Remember, there is only one required upper-level course (professional responsibility).  With this in mind, focus on getting as many of the “introductory” classes in a particular area under one’s belt, and speak to pertinent faculty and advisors on how to gain knowledge in other ways.  (Certain conferences or symposia can be quite educational, and, once practice starts, so can Continuing Legal Education courses and training within one’s organization.) 

Continue to Monitor Cross-disciplinary Options

Some 3Ls are also far along in Certificate programs or joint degree programs.  Students should be aware of potentially interesting classes offered outside the law school, along with external events (such as cross-disciplinary conferences), and should participate in such endeavors as appropriate.  They should also make sure that their course selection conforms with the requirements for a particular Certificate or program.  Please see the “Cross-Disciplinary Opportunities” portion of the Compass for more information. 

Consider “Legal Cross-Training”

In some ways, “law” can be considered one subject - that is, the study of reasoning methods for solving social problems.  Consequently, be it in Family Law or Health Law or Environmental Law, there are meaningful ties and connections between seemingly disparate areas.  While many 3Ls dive deep in their exploration of a certain area or two, students can consider taking an occasional foundational law course in a field distinct from one’s chosen inclinations.  So, for those deeply committed to Business & Transactional Law, if one’s schedule allows, a course in another area (Intro to IP & Policy, Environmental Law, etc.) may yield unexpected returns.  Such a course may spur previously undiscovered interest, or could spark synergies later in one’s career. 

Note Potentially Increasing Co-Curricular Obligations

3Ls have the most variability in their co-curricular obligations.  Some leadership positions on a particular journal may take a tremendous amount of time.  Other positions can ask for more moderate time commitments.  As with 2L year, 3L students should balance their prospective course load with the time commitments they may face with their co-curricular pursuits.  (Put another way, just as in 2L year, the time required for a particular co-curricular opportunity may not in fact reflect the credits conferred for the opportunity.) 

Know Yourself, and Acknowledge Past Selection Criteria

Enjoy taking classes with a particular professor?  Prefer exams to long take-home papers?  By 3L year, students have a sense of their own inclinations and preferences.  They are the farthest along in discovering their particular strengths and weaknesses.  Students need not play purely to their strengths at the expense of important curricular considerations (e.g. taking foundational courses in a particular area), but they should allow their preferences to play a role in course selection.

In practice and as an example, a 3L student who has been judiciously exploring the IP and Business & Transactional fields since 2L year (as seen in this “mock 2L schedule” - [scroll down the linked page]) could take the following in the 3L fall 2017 semester:

Intellectual Property & Corporate Lawyering (Law 935 - 3 credits) W 4:30pm - 6:30pm
Copyright (Law 621 - 3 credits) MW 10:30am - 11:50am
Corporate Governance, Ethics & Compliance (Law 769 - 2 Credits) M 4:30pm - 6:30pm
Negotiation & Dispute Resolution (Law 651 - 3 credits) F 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Journal of Business Law (Symposium Editor for the Fall Symposium) (3 Credits)

This student will have a 14 credit load for the fall.  In the spring, this student could then consider the Detkin IP & Technology Law clinic (7 credits), an additional key course for this area (such as Antitrust [Law 607] – 3 credits, or an IP seminar), any remaining requirements (such as the senior writing requirement which could be fulfilled through an independent Study with a Penn Law professor), to cap off the student’s Penn Law experience. 

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“Required” Upper-Level Classes?

Outside of the important professional responsibility course requirement, Penn Law has no required upper-level classes.  With this being said, some faculty and staff at the Law School assert that certain courses have broad applicability, and should be considered carefully by all law students, no matter their academic focus.  The classes often mentioned are:

  • Corporations (Law 622): corporate entities and a knowledge of corporate structure can be valuable across nearly all fields, from transactional law to health law.
  • Federal Income Tax (Law 640): tax impacts virtually every area of law, and many legal endeavors contain tax implications. 
  • Accounting (Law 600 or Law 729 – Law 729 tends to be more quantitative, but neither class requires any prior background in accounting): across fields, lawyers increasingly need financial literacy and an understanding of basic financial statements.  Accounting provides an introduction to such concepts.
  • Evidence (Law 631): evidentiary principles oftentimes guide the work that many lawyers conduct. 
  • Administrative Law (Law 601): administrative agencies (the FDA, SEC, etc.) exert tremendous control and authority over American life.  Further, nearly all lawyers interact with some sort of governmental agency in practice.  Law 601 provides law students with an introduction to the rules and principles that underpin these administrative agencies. 
  • (Also note that the new Wharton Certificate in Management [Law 550] will provide multi-purpose training from a variety of angles [financial literacy, organizational behavior, etc.])

Again, none of the above classes are required.  Law students are free to take all or none of these courses.  As deserves reiteration, though, these foundational courses have broad applicability and deserve careful consideration. 

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Class Bidding/Ranking Strategies

3Ls and LLMs receive preference in Penn Law’s ranking-based advanced course registration system for most classes.  For detailed information on this, please see the Advanced Registration InstructionsNote, students are not guaranteed enrollment in particular courses based.  Students may need to utilize add/drop period to finalize their schedules.  With all this being said, here are some guidelines to help 3L students rank their courses meaningfully:

  • 3Ls should rank clinics or historically popular seminars (such as Negotiation & Dispute Resolution [Law 651]) highly, and should note that entry into these classes – even for 3Ls – is not guaranteed. 
  • Similarly, students may want to use alternate and primary portions of their ranking carefully (e.g. a student intent on gaining clinical experience could rank the Civil Practice Clinic as the #1 primary choice, and have the Child Advocacy Clinic as their alternate).
  • Unless intent on studying with a popular professor, larger “building block” courses with multiple sections (e.g. Corporations) don’t tend to all fill up completely, and using the very highest rank on these classes is generally not necessary.
  • Also, see the pertinent Areas of Focus to determine what course sequencing may be best for a particular topical area.  Such a review can then structure a 3Ls final two semesters at Penn Law.

The above constitutes suggestions, and please note that ranking a class highly does not guarantee entry into the class.  As 3Ls know, a lot of important activity and shifts occur during add/drop period.  For a full explanation of these processes, as stated above, please see the Advanced Registration Instructions on the Registrar’s Page.

Also, to view past enrollment information (e.g. to see which past classes have “maxed out” on enrollment), please see our Registration Archives (scroll down the page to get to the archives).

Finally, course evaluations (written by Penn Law students) can be helpful in assessing interest in a given course.  To review course evaluations, please go to the Course Finder and click on a previously offered class.  If the professor has online evaluations up, you can read the eval in the course description.

Note, online course evaluations are only open during advanced course registration and add/drop.  Also, some professors only allow for hard copies (not online versions) of their evaluations.  If you’d like to see course evaluations and they aren’t present online, hard copies are always available in the Registrar’s Office.

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A Word On Adjunct Faculty and Full-Time Faculty

Full-time faculty (also known as standing faculty) are generally tenure-track (or tenured) professors at Penn Law who focus primarily on cutting-edge legal research and scholarship.  They have offices at the Law School, and teach multiple law courses, oftentimes year after year.  Adjunct faculty are generally active practitioners or judges  who are experts in particular areas of the law.  They generally do not have offices at the Law School, and they may not teach every year. 

Law students should be cognizant of differences between standing and adjunct faculty members.  For those intent on producing publishable legal scholarship, adjuncts may not be present for the multiple semesters (if not years) that it takes to produce such work.  Standing faculty are also sure to be aware of legal scholarship and academic trends within their fields of interests. 

Adjuncts are experts in specific fields, and can offer superb instruction relating to the practice of law for a particular area.  Adjuncts may not, however, seek to publish legal scholarship as often as standing faculty members, and may not follow the scholarship in a particular field as closely.  Further, adjuncts may not be present each semester to continue ties with students. 

When selecting courses, students ought to be aware of these general factors.  (Of course, the terms discussed here may not apply to individual faculty members.)  For a student seeking to form a relationship over the course of three semesters with a faculty member (and possibly after graduation as well), such a tie may simply not be possible with an adjunct.  Similarly, for a student looking to learn from an expert in a certain field of practice, classes with adjunct faculty may present excellent opportunities. 

Closing Thoughts

Third year represents a critical capstone opportunity for Penn Law students.  3Ls can combine the seminal experiences from 1L year with the additional building block classes/experiential development of 2L year to create an impactful final year of study.  Many students decide to explore a particular Area of Focus (e.g. through targeted work in a clinic and upper-level seminars) as deeply as possible.  Others choose to refine select skills and gain exposure to legal concepts in a wider array of fields.  In many ways, 3L year represents the bridge between the law school experience and the law practice that beckons.  Students, then, should strive to make the most of their final two semesters at Penn Law.  The considerations presented above hopefully present students with points to consider as they formulate their course selection plans. 

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