Would you drop a grand on nothing? If you’ve got a J.D., you probably did. No, we’re not talking about the totality of your law degree. That’s another debate altogether. We’re talking about some of those worthless electives you took after the first year. If you figure those courses cost at least a couple grand (maybe more, depending on tuition and the number credits needed to graduate), hundreds of thousands a year are collectively invested in full-priced classes with fractional relevance.
Not that we don’t love learning for learning’s sake, but a law school class on John Grisham is the graduate school equivalent of that Acting for Non-Majors course the football team took in undergrad. Yes, both help your GPA, but what will you learn that you’ll actually be able to apply?
In support of the argument “law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer,” here are twelve classes that top ten schools could lose without breaking a sweat. In order by ranking.
1. YALE’S “INCENTIVES VS. COMMITMENTS”
The title makes it sound like the sort of course a marriage counselor would teach, but it’s really about why people break their word. No, seriously. Yale Law students can actually spend two hours per week “learning” about the thought process behind someone who breached their contract. Pass/Fail, of course. And while they’re doing that, those at third-tier schools are learning something practical—like a remedy. But if (WHEN!) the client ever gets real agro and demands to know why, it’s reassuring to know you can call on a Yalie to come explain.
2. HARVARD’S “EVIL: SEMINAR”
A seminar in evil? Not a misprint. Harvard Law teaches a course on evil—and no, it’s not a how-to class. Here’s the course description in its entirety: “Theological, philosophical, and psychological perspectives on the ‘problem of evil’ and its modern manifestations, with particular reference to the mass atrocities of the twentieth century and their legal repercussions.” But where do they get off calling evil a problem? And why, in the interest of fairness, don’t they offer Good: Symposium?
3. STANFORD’S “LAW AND CULTURE IN AMERICAN FILM”
Hiring Partner: What do you know about securities regulation?
Stanford Grad: A lot, actually. I saw Wall Street. Twice.
4. COLUMBIA’S “ANATOMY OF THE LARGE LAW FIRM”
The opportunity to learn how to survive and thrive in a large, competitive environment sounds really useful. But it ain’t called “Anatomy of the Large Law Firm,” it’s called being a Summer Associate. If you can’t learn it on the job, a class about it is likely pretty unnecessary for you.
5. NYU’S “RESISTING INJUSTICE”
Stop fighting it. Just quit. After 1L, students at NYU should have learned that resistance is futile. Here’s a nugget from the syllabus: “The seminar includes in its pedagogy experiments in freeing creative voice through writing and theater exercises, and includes the close study of history, psychoanalysis, novels and plays.” Great. Maybe someone who took this course can do a little improv at the next closing dinner.
6. UC BERKELEY’S “WINE LAW”
(Tie with University of Chicago) Yes, we know that the law impacts the way wine is produced, distributed and sold in the U.S., but a law school course on the subject? Seriously, unless you’re going to be the next Robert Parker, this class just sounds like an excuse to drink, which explains why it’s an evening course.
7. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO’S “ROMAN LAW”
(Tie with UC Berkeley) Spare us the lecture on the origins of law. This one is about 2,000 years too late to be of any real use. And that’s maybe why the syllabus offers this caveat: “The seminar develops skill in analyzing legal problems according to the processes of the Roman civil law, in contrast with those of the common law, and does not purport to give a comprehensive treatment of its detailed workings.” So you can take this course and be just enough of a Marcus Tullius Cicero to be dangerous.
8. UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA’S “DOCUMENTARIES IN THE LAW”
Partner: Did you ever see Supersize Me?
Associate: Of course. I wrote a paper on it at UPenn…
Partner: Great. We’ve got a conference call with McDonald’s about a commercial lease. Don’t mention the movie.
9. UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN’S “FAKING IT”
No, it’s not about orgasms. But according to this gem from the syllabus: “…there are times when you wonder who or what you are amidst all the various roles you are asked to play, from mourner, to lover, to barely competent lawyer.” And apparently “barely competent lawyer” is a role that the University of Michigan expects you to have to fake.
10. DUKE’S “TABOO TRADES & FORBIDDEN EXCHANGES”
(Tie with Northwestern) For the love of gypsies, tramps and thieves—why can’t you sell your vote or a buy a hooker? If those questions ever crossed your mind, Duke Law School has the answer. The course promises to have a lot of guest speakers. Our suggestion: A Heidi Fleiss/Rod Blagojevich tag team.
11. NORTHWESTERN’S “LIVES OF LAWYERS”
(Tie with Duke) This one should have made the list twice because it somehow manages to not only be utterly worthless but also entirely dull. The lives of lawyers. Hm. So, let’s get this straight. Instead of teaching you about the law, this elective profiles the people who make the law what it is? We object. Not once was the word “bitter” mentioned in the syllabus. We recommend this site as required reading for the course.