In the United States, law is primarily taught at law schools.

In the United States law schools are graduate/professional schools where a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for admission. Most law schools are part of universities but a few are independent institutions.

Law schools in the United States award graduating students a J.D. (Juris Doctor / Doctor of Law) (as opposed to Bachelor or Laws) as the standard law degree.


Many schools also offer post-doctoral law degrees such as the LL.M. (Legum Magister/Master of Laws), or the S.J.D. (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor/Doctor of the Science of Law) for students interested in furthering their knowledge and credentials in a specific area of law.

The rigorous curriculum moves quickly, and you'll be expected to read at least 50-75 pages of dense case law every day in order to keep up. In class, professors employ the Socratic method, cold-calling on students and asking them to apply legal principles to hypothetical (and sometimes outlandish) sets of facts. Unlike most undergraduate classes, grades for law school classes are usually determined by a single exam taken at the end of the semester.

Law school can be intimidating, but knowledge is power. Understanding the basics of the law school experience will set you up for success in your first year and beyond.

The Curriculum
The law school curriculum is administered over a period of 3 years. All law schools offer the same courses during the first year (called 1L). The 1L courses are: 

  • Civil Procedure. Civil Procedure is the study of complex rules that govern the mechanics of court proceedings. These rules often determine the who, when, where, and how of a lawsuit. Civil Procedure also dictates the rules preceding, during, and after a trial.
  • Contracts. This two-semester-long course focuses on parties who enter into an agreement and what happens when a breach occurs. 
  • Criminal Law. This course covers criminal offenses, including what makes something a criminal offense and how crimes are punished. 
  • Property Law. In Property Law, you’ll study the acquisition, possession, and disposition of property. Expect to study dense case law outlining the nuances of property ownership. 
  • Torts. Torts is the study of harmful acts that are punishable under civil law. You will learn about the repercussions of trespassing, false imprisonment, assault/battery, and more. 
  • Constitutional Law. In Constitutional Law, you will learn about the structure of the United States government and individual rights. 
  • Legal Research/Writing. This course teaches students the fundamentals of legal writing and how to write a legal memo. 

In the second and third years, students can select classes based on their interests. Courses will vary depending on the law school, but typical options include real estate, tax, intellectual property, evidence, trial advocacy, mergers and acquisitions, wills and estates, bankruptcy, and securities law. It is a good idea to take a variety of classes in order to decide which practice area to pursue after law school. 

If possible, try sitting in on a course before applying to law school. This experience is helpful because you can learn how law school classes are conducted without having any pressure to perform.