The first-year curriculum provides a base of analytic, doctrinal, and skills approaches that enable our students in their second and third years to study advanced topics in the law and to take advantage of increasingly complex practical opportunities. The first-year faculty approach the curriculum in different ways, and across a spectrum of interpretive approaches. Although not every faculty member introduces every approach into his or her lecture course, our students experience a range of perspectives in their first year. Themes that are covered include:
Substance of the Law
Much of law establishes the rights and responsibilities among individual members of society. Historically, tort law, chiefly through trespass and nuisance law described the implicit duties individuals owe one another as strangers wholly apart from consent. These are principally duties not to harm. Starting in the nineteenth century tort law placed a far greater emphasis on harms that arose out of consensual relations – occupier’s liability, industrial accidents, medical malpractice and product liability, where it is uncertain the extent to which parties can contract out their harm-based liability to each other. Contracts addresses an extension of duties beyond those to refrain from harm; through contract, individuals voluntarily incur duties upon themselves, typically as part of an exchange, above and beyond the background duties owed as a matter of tort law. On the positive side, each of these courses also introduces students to the role of law in the creation and preservation of wealth, including through commerce. It also examines the ways in which contract and regulation can lead to a reduction in overall wealth. The study of such role addresses basic concepts (and moral criticisms) of capitalism as well as rudimentary business principles such as those of accounting and finance (principles employed more thoroughly later in courses such as Corporations and Securities Law). Only through understanding each of these bodies of law can a student glimpse a complete picture of the rules that govern interactions among society members.
Another important function of law is to establish the rules through which the government regulates and constrains the actions of individuals. For instance, where tort law provides individuals insufficient means to deter or to punish transgressions, the material studied in Legislation and the Regulatory State and in Criminal Law fill the void with governmental sanctions that are deemed too intrusive to be wielded by individuals. The criminal law is also the means through which society expresses moral condemnation for behavior, and as such the course in Criminal Law is the means through which students learn to contemplate the proper role of the state in instilling and enforcing moral precepts. These powerful sanctions are, in turn, constrained by individual rights protected by principles addressed in Constitutional Law, which also exposes students to the institutional structures and relationships that constitute the American system of government. The course teaches students about the scope of congressional powers to legislate in various areas as well as the limitations on those powers. In addition, the course addresses the nature of American federalism and the constitutional relationship between national and state governments. Through these courses, students begin to learn the role of government in society as well as the role of a lawyer in her representation of an individual at odds with the government.
The creation and implementation of substantive duties and rights occur not merely in abstract theory but in practical process. Legislation and the Regulatory State, Criminal Law, and, of course, Procedure, in varying degrees, require students to learn how lawyers go about the business of navigating the legal system, whether through administrative process or criminal or civil litigation. The tools of such navigation, as well as knowledge of a lawyer’s ethical responsibility in wielding them, are essential to the education of a lawyer (and are explored more thoroughly in later courses such as Evidence, Criminal Procedure, and Professional Responsibility). These courses introduce students to methods of statutory interpretation, to the constitutional doctrines that govern the roles of Congress and the President in the making of statutes and regulations, and to the statutory frameworks that govern the actions of administrative agencies. In addition, students learn through these courses how the rules as written play out in practice, gaining an introduction to gaps that may exist between the aspirations of law and the ground-truth of law as executed. Students are exposed to the ways in which access to resources or power, the existence of information deficits or asymmetries, or societal biases or structural injustices may influence or inhibit the implementation of legal ideals. Thus, our first-year curriculum runs from the substantive foundation of law as a means to govern the interaction of individuals to the process through which such governance takes place.
The Common Law
Judges have played, and play, an important role in the creation of substantive law, particularly in the areas covered by Contracts, Torts, and Property. Thus, in these courses, students learn the art and skill of reasoning from precedent and of applying underlying principle to new fact patterns. Through this process, students are exposed to the fundamental logic of a lawyer’s trade.
Statute and Regulation
Beyond the common law, substantive rules are created by constitution, statute, and regulation. The Legislation and the Regulatory State and Constitutional Law introduce students to how statute and regulation (including the Constitution) are created and interpreted. Additionally, Contract Law and Criminal Law require students to study at length specific commercial and criminal codes, respectively. Depending on the individual course taught, an exploration of these topics may address a number of significant relationships: between the Constitution and ordinary statute; between statute and regulation; between federal and state government; between legislatures and judges; between judges and juries; and between legal structures and ordinary individuals.
Skills and Experiential Learning
The study of substantive and procedural law is accompanied by serious attention to the skills that students need to navigate, participate in, and affect the practical process of law making, judicial decision making, counseling, negotiation, advocacy and the other aspects of a professional life in the law. Students, through the intensive Lawyering Program and through the immersion method associated with lecture courses, learn to read cases, to analyze statutes, to do research pertaining to judicial decisions, statutes, and regulations, and to formulate positions using the conventions and rhetoric of legal argument.