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1L, 2nd Semester
February 12, 2009
The first semester at Yale Law School is pretty standard as far as law school curriculum goes. Every 1L takes the same four classes: Constitutional Law, Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Torts. You pick up your schedule at orientation without any decisions to make or courses to decide between.
The second semester is a completely different story. Unlike most law schools, there are no specific courses that you are required to take in your second semester. In fact, the only requirement left is that you take Criminal Law at some point before you graduate. Thus, you can take lectures, seminars, and even clinics. From the moment that the semester changes to the spring term, you go from having each class assigned to having complete control, daunting as that may be.
In November, the Registrar’s office holds a session for all 1L’s and explains the course schedule, how to preference classes, and the methods used to decide who gets in classes that are in high demand. However, since the discussion includes multiple timelines and the use of terms like “algorithm,” the process still seems quite confusing even after the meeting. Nevertheless, you come to find out that you learn the process very quickly by going through the registration process.
The system essentially has three components: you preference classes you want to take, you are then assigned certain classes, and finally, during the first week of the semester, you participate in the semi-annual extravaganza known as “shopping” (also known as the add/drop period).
Deciding which classes to preference is a challenge in and of itself, if for no other reason than the sheer number of class offerings. After you have spent several evenings agonizing over which professors to take and reading course evaluations, you finally preference what you want and hope for the best. Once classes are assigned, some people are happy with their assignments, but others want to make some changes and look around for other possibilities. Thus, we move into the “shopping” phase.
The first week of the semester is a really unique and fun time at Yale. Students sit on tons of different classes, while professors try to showcase the merits of their class to the many observers. Class waitlists fluctuate wildly, and the law school is as bustling as ever. Not only is this process a great way to decide on one class over another, but it also allows you to get a feel for classes you want to take in coming semesters. The first week is especially relaxed because professors appreciate that students are trying to finalize their schedules, and can be more accommodating than usual (which says a lot considering the wonderful professor student relationships at the school).
At the end of this process, almost all students are happy with their classes. While they are not necessarily the classes that they originally thought they would take during the semester, each student is taking any particular class or clinic because they have had the opportunity to get an overview of the class and see the professor’s style.
While the process can be intimidating and uncertain the first time through, it is also empowering. There is no specified formula, and there is no “right” class to take. And at the end of the day, you begin to appreciate your time in law school more because you discover that your legal education at Yale is exactly what you make of it.