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General Advice for Building Your Upper-Level Schedule

The purpose of this guide is to provide a systematic overview of the upper-class J.D. curriculum at St. John’s in order to help students plan their academic programs. Students should supplement their reading of this guide by consulting members of the faculty and administration (including their Career Development Office counselor) about courses that suit their particular goals, needs, and career paths and by attending information sessions sponsored by the faculty and administration. Only one specific upperclass course is required: Professional Responsibility. Professional Responsibility must be taken prior to the final year of Law School. All other upper-class courses are elective.

There is no one approach to the selection of electives. Some students may wish to pursue a variety of courses across a wide spectrum, some may wish to confine their coursework primarily to fundamental areas, and others may wish to develop specialties. Regardless of the strategy students may take with respect to traditional courses and seminars, all are encouraged to consider the professional skills courses that will further the development of skills used in the practice of law.

One of the traditional hallmarks of legal education at St. John’s School of Law has been the preparation of graduates who are able to “hit the ground running” in almost any area of legal practice. Thus, the faculty believes each student’s program should include a critical mass of fundamental, or “core,” courses that will help the graduate to achieve competence as a well-rounded lawyer in an ever-changing legal environment.

Rather than require all students to take specified core courses, the Law School seeks to provide a balance between each student’s need for exposure to fundamental areas of law and flexibility in the pursuit of specialties and intellectual interests. To this end, students must take 4 out of the 5 courses* from the following list:

  • Administrative Law
  • Business Organizations
  • Evidence
  • Taxation—Basic Federal Personal Income
  • Trusts and Estates

*Fall 2020 matriculants must take 5 out of 6 core electives including the 5 courses above and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

These are courses the faculty has determined to be foundational to every lawyer. One thing all of the core electives have in common is that they are generally rigorous in nature and will thereby help students to continue the process, begun in first year, of refining their analytical legal skills and broadening their knowledge of fundamental legal doctrine and policy. Many of them also form the foundations to particular pathways. The inclusion of Business OrganizationsEvidenceTaxation—Basic Federal Personal Income, and Trusts and Estates in the group reflects the continuing view that a student will benefit by taking them, no matter what area of practice is pursued. Another characteristic shared by these four courses, in particular, is that each one involves material that is difficult to learn on one’s own, i.e., “on the job.” (Taxation, for example, is best learned in the classroom setting.) Administrative Law is on the list because of the pervasive influence of rule-making and adjudication by government agencies. Taxation—Basic Federal Personal Income is similarly pervasive across the spectrum of practice areas.

In order to achieve a balanced workload in their upper-class schedules, students are encouraged to spread their core electives over the four upper-class semesters (or six semesters in the case of evening students). For example, a day student would be well advised to complete 3 of 5 core electives by the end of the second year (end of third year for evening students). The most appropriate timing and sequence of electives will depend on the student’s individual career path and interests.

There are additional degree requirements depending on a student’s semester of matriculation. Consult the Student Handbook and the relevant graduation checklist under Academic Advising.

Beyond the core electives and other degree requirements, students should think strategically about the elective courses they choose. The increasing complexity of legal practice and the demands by clients of profession-readiness by lawyers have led to increased specialization in the legal community. As a result, students should consider developing expertise in one or more career pathways.

The Career Pathways section of this site is intended to provide students with a series of well-trod pathways to the profession. It brings together the courses, experiential learning opportunities, and networking resources they will need to be profession-ready and succeed in their job searches in common pathways. These pathways are not set in stone; they can and should be adapted to individual students’ interests. For example, a student with an interest in white collar criminal defense should take courses, gain experience, and expand his or her professional network in both criminal law and corporate/securities law. Likewise, a student with an interest in international tax issues should chart a path that includes aspects of both the international practice and tax pathways.

Each pathway contains an introduction to the practice area, a list of courses, sample clinics and externship placements, and bar associations and other networking resources. The courses are broken up into four categories: foundation courses, which students should take early in their upper-level years; advanced electives, from which they should choose as many as possible; writing courses, many of which may satisfy the Advanced Practice Writing Requirement; and skills courses. Each pathway also contains a suggested schedule to follow.

Throughout their academic career, students should seek out the advice of the faculty members and career counselors in their areas of interest for further guidance.

This guide was a collaborative effort among faculty, administrators, and career development counselors. We hope that students find it useful in charting their path to the profession.

(Students should take note that not all elective courses are offered annually. As with all aspects of the curriculum, the current program is subject to future modification.)

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