In your first year, all students take the same coursework: the foundational courses that prepare you for the practice of law and a leadership and professional development.
In your second and third years, two courses are required: an upper-level writing course in your second year, and a course in professional ethics, which must be taken before you graduate.
Apart from these courses, you have the opportunity to choose the path of your legal education. It’s important, therefore, to get advice from a variety of sources so that you can plan your course schedule to achieve your individual goals at William & Mary. Our faculty welcomes questions on which of our many electives might best align with your interests.
There are a number of approaches one can take in selecting courses, and many students will use most or all of these approaches in planning their schedule for their second and third years.
One approach is to take a number of foundational courses, such as Corporations/Business Associations, Trusts and Estates, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Federal Income Tax. Lawyers are often expected to have at least some familiarity with many areas of the law, even if they are not specialists in those areas. Taking a number of these courses in your second year will also allow you to discover (or confirm) the area of law in which you’d like to practice.
Some of these foundational courses will also be tested on the bar exam, so early exposure to these subjects may be helpful, particularly if you find taking law school examinations challenging. (The subjects tested on the bar exam vary by state, so you should consult the requirements for the state in which you plan to take the exam.)
Of course, it’s impossible to take every foundational course that William & Mary offers, but some engagement with these courses will help to make you a well-rounded lawyer.
A second approach is to take advanced courses in a particular area of law. Advanced coursework deepens your knowledge and ability to engage in legal analysis in a particular area and demonstrates interest in the field. (You can see which courses fall into which subject areas by clicking here.)
A third approach is to take courses that help you to build skill sets that are important to effective lawyering – skills such as statutory analysis, assessment of empirical data, advanced legal writing, communication skills, comparative law, or experiential learning. If you need to develop your skills in a particular area, consider taking a course that focuses on those skills, even if the subject matter of the course isn’t a perfect fit.
Finally, don’t forget to take at least a couple of courses for no other reason than that the subject matter interests you, even if it’s not directly related to the type of law you hope to practice. For many of you, your three years of law school will be the last time you’ll have the opportunity to study an area of the law outside your primary practice area in depth and engage with others on the topic. Choosing courses that challenge you intellectually and expose you to thoughts and viewpoints you might not previously have considered will make you a more effective lawyer.