Paralyzed by Choice?

February 4, 2011 - 12 AM

A.R., 1L

At most law schools, the entire first year curriculum consists of required courses, and students are not free to choose their own classes until their second year. As readers of this blog have doubtless figured out, here at YLS we do things a bit differently. After the four core courses of first semester (torts, civil procedure, contracts, and constitutional law), we are free to choose our classes, subject to a few basic requirements. While there are certainly some daunting aspects of this freedom of choice model, it also allows students to begin to pursue established interests (or to try out new ones) in the classroom at a pretty early date.

One of the consequences of choosing our own classes after first semester is that – a mere week after finishing up our first group of law school finals – we begin to take classes alongside 2Ls and 3Ls. While I do sometimes feel uneasy about how much more the upperclassmen must know about the subjects at hand, it’s also true that getting some exposure to students beyond the 1L class is pretty refreshing.

Additionally, choosing classes isn’t as easy as one might think. There are many questions to consider: what’s the proper credit load? How many black letter classes should you take? Is a clinic a good idea? Are you interested in writing one of the two required papers this semester? Do any reading groups – one-credit courses with syllabi created by groups of students, who meet once a week or so to discuss topics from Dante to urban planning – pique your interest? The list of considerations goes on, and probably explains why most students spend the first two weeks of the semester “shopping” a variety of classes before they commit to a finalized schedule.

While it’s true that initially navigating the YLS class selection process can be tricky, I think it’s a great system. Most of my friends, like me, are taking a pretty balanced mixture of classes: black law classics like Criminal Law or Property, seminars (on anything from “Advanced Legal Research” to “Justice”), and clinics, which range in topic as well. The mix of classes and activities is a big switch from the more traditional classroom focus of last semester, but two weeks into the term, I’m really enjoying the new arrangement.