First-Year Courses

Each year, the 1Ls are split into six class sections and eight legal writing sections. You are randomly assigned to a section that normally consists of about 35 students. You’ll be assigned to a small section at (or just before) orientation. You then share the same schedule with those students (with the possible exception of legal writing) for your entire first year. Each section has its own schedule, and, invariably, some sections have class schedules that require students to spend more time around campus. For some students this is helpful because they get to enjoy the law school’s daytime environment, which usually involves talking with classmates and studying in the Goodson Law Library. There are also myriad programs offered during the lunch period by Duke’s many student organizations. Free lunch is also provided and these events are a great way to supplement your classroom education.

First-year courses are generally composed of two of the small sections, but every section has one class that is composed only of members of that section. Your small section is the group of classmates with whom you are generally closest. You see each other every day in every class and you play softball together in the Duke Law Softball League.

If you are pursuing a JD/LLM or JD/MA, you’ll start law school in the summer with about 35 other new students. You will have already taken two first-year classes, which means you get to take at least one elective in the fall and spring terms. (You have to take more classes to complete the requirements of your joint degree program.) If you begin law school in the fall, you may have a few summer starters in some of your classes. Also, take the time to get to know the almost 100 international students from all parts of the world who are studying at the Law School for one year to receive an LLM, which will allow them to practice in the States.

You will take eight courses during your first year. Foundations of Law meets during lunch eight times throughout the year (three of which are during orientation). The writing course meets for half of the first term and for half of the second term. The remaining six courses are split evenly, three per term. Note that while everyone takes LARW during their first-year, your remaining schedule will vary. In the spring, you will take the remaining first-year courses that you did not take in the fall. The first-year curriculum is helpful, but you need to know which section you’re in to understand it.


This course provides the means for addressing any civil wrong other than a breach of contract (see below). Depending on your professor, you might cover the civil law for assault (she scared me on purpose), battery (she hit me on purpose), negligence (she should have known better), and strict-liability (it’s her fault no matter what).


This course’s content also varies by professor. But most professors will cover the standard concepts behind agreements that bind people and some of the things done in consideration of those agreements.

Constitutional Law

This course covers the various nuances of the decisions made by the Supreme Court. The course will probably touch on the powers of the three branches of the federal government, the ways in which the Supreme Court interprets those powers, and the protections derived from the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment (Equal Protection and Due Process in particular).

Civil Procedure

This course covers the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the ways in which those rules are interpreted. These rules govern the life cycle of a lawsuit in federal court inter alia (among other things). While this material is perhaps the most practical that a prospective litigator can learn while in law school, it is the only first-year course not covered on state bar exams.


This course covers the laws surrounding property. In this course you might focus on theory (e.g. is this mine because I made it or because I found it?), you might discuss more practical considerations (e.g. when the government can exercise eminent domain), or maybe both.

Criminal Law

This course covers the laws that are the basis for the hit TV series Law and Order. Actually, that may not be true as we have no way to back that claim up. Nevertheless, the course does tend to be as interesting as anything you’re likely to see on TV. The crimes outlined in the Model Penal Code and discussed in class include arson, burglary, rape, criminal assault and battery, and various levels of homicide. If you like this class enough, you’ll want to invent your own criminal statutes, for example, “Criminal Ignorance” and “Criminal Conduct Not Worthy of a Professional Criminal.”

Legal Analysis, Research & Writing

This course meets for the first half of both the fall and spring terms. Expect your semesters to be somewhat front-loaded: the fall memo is due right after Fall Break and the two spring assignments are due before Spring Break. You will also have several short research assignments. While this course is worth four credits and the others are worth four and a half, do resist the temptation to blow off either the writing or research assignments. Most upperclass students will vouch for how helpful LARW is during your summer clerkships.

»The first-year curriculum

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