11 Worthless Classes at Top 10 Schools


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.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

25 Comments

  1. Bill Dugan

    May 6, 2009 at 2:55 am

    I took a course at my TTT called something like “The Judicial Process”.  It was taught by some poor old fossil who once was a big judge in the State whose mission it was to try and impart to a bunch of dipsticks how the process of judicial deliberation works.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t hear him, and he couldn’t hear us.  Some of the guys took the opportunity to ask ridiculous questions, others just slept through it, and one pair sat in the back and used it to “study their anatomy”.  This class was easy.  I don’t think we took a final or wrote a paper.  I also remember there was one cute girl in the class (which was one of 3 in the ENTIRE school), so I might have been a little distracted.

  2. BL1Y

    May 6, 2009 at 3:44 am

    My school also had a class on Jewish Law.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not actually enforced anywhere, is it?  Sure, there are tons of Jewish law students, but why not a more inclusive class, like bathroom protocol or the rules for calling shotgun?  Even worse was our class on the trial of Jesus.  I don’t recall the trial even being a big deal in the Bible.  Seems to me it’s bookended by far more important events.  But at least the course description goes out of its way to ensure you that it’s a serious class that will actually require some work.  Biggest joke class ever though?  Feminism.

  3. Anonymous

    May 6, 2009 at 3:55 am

    BL1Y is right.  While I don’t know much about Jewish Law (isnt that in the Bible?) we had Feminism at our LS.  The Feminism class was taught at my LS by an ugly overweight butch (with more underarm hair than Will Ferrell) to a bunch of losers who never got laid (including 2 guys trying to get some action with the dogs in that class).  All I can say is that seeing those jerks coming out of class was the best way for us men to suppress our heterosexual urges.  Of course, there were not that many positive sexual stimuli at LS.  We had to go across the street to the University to find quality undergraduate female tail.

  4. Anonymous

    May 6, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Interesting choice at #7. That’s Roman Law – with Richard Epstein! I bet he’s worth a lot more than this web site.

  5. Anonymous

    May 6, 2009 at 6:39 am

    I took law of war. That was a good idea. It comes up all the time working insurance defense.

  6. Law Student22

    May 6, 2009 at 7:46 am

    I bet Law of war would be a cool class to take.

  7. What the hell?

    May 6, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Where is UVA in all this?  We’re still top ten, biatches.  And we have plenty of worthless classes.

  8. Anonymous

    May 6, 2009 at 8:41 am

    UVA bites the big one.  It also is a state school (borderline TTT)

  9. Anonymous

    May 6, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Law of war wasn’t as cool as you might think. Yes, I have a better understanding of this torture stuff (and it is torture, folks) but I would have been better off taking post judgement remedies or another trial ad class.

  10. Anon Female

    May 6, 2009 at 11:12 am

    What about “Women and the Law”?  If that isn’t a class for cows, I don’t know what is!

  11. Anon Female

    May 6, 2009 at 11:41 am

    This is the real Anon Female! get your own name commenter below.

  12. Anon Female

    May 6, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I am entitled to use this name, and just who are you anyway?

  13. Alan

    May 6, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    This was hilarious because I’m still paying for “Law in Foreign Cultures”

  14. Anonymous

    May 6, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    You and me both, Alan.

  15. anon

    May 6, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    richard epstein teaches a class on roman law?  the explains why he tried to work so much of it into my contracts class.
    also, i actually know someone who took the wine law course and apparently now wants to work in wine law, whatever it is they do.

  16. Tripp

    May 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    I am at a law school that loosely affiliates with a very religious university, so we have the obligatory “Christian Reconciliation” class. It’s basically “How would Jesus cross-examine?” for a single P/F credit hour.

  17. BL1Y

    May 7, 2009 at 3:30 am

    Jesus was a carpenter.  I imagine he’d obey the rule that only lawyers practice law and not cross-examine at all.

  18. manda

    May 7, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Jewish law comes up in domestic cases, because Jewish people (maybe just orthodox?) are also legally married in Israel (or in the eyes of God or something), so when they want to get a divorce, they have to get a legal American one and then the husband has allow his wife to be divorced from him under Jewish law.  All I know is it is called a “get” and if the husband doesn’t want to do it, there is no forcing him. 
    Art law was a pretty useless class.  It’s all just ucc (movable objects), criminal law (theft, forgeries, art stolen by the nazis) and intellectual property law (duh).

  19. BL1Y

    May 7, 2009 at 10:05 am

    So…Jewish law is basically only useful if a woman gets divorced outside of Israel and then wants to move to Israel and still be divorced?  I’m glad there is a whole class devoted to this.

  20. Mark

    May 7, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Way to leave Virginia off the list…

  21. Quentin Compson

    May 11, 2009 at 10:47 am

    All Entertainment Law classes. A student’s chance of practicing entertainment law is less than 1%. It would be cheaper (and more informative) to watch DVDs of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

  22. whatever

    May 16, 2009 at 4:32 am

    Gotta say, Roman Law @ Chi was probably the best course I’ve ever taken.  Taught by an excellent prof, super demanding, very useful as a birds eye view of civil law.  I’m all for ridiculing useless classes, but you’re just flat wrong on this one.

  23. Mitch B.

    May 17, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Any of these courses sound more valuable than the typical 1L courses– but that doesn’t say much.

  24. Guest

    May 19, 2009 at 6:39 am

    When I was at Penn I took a class called Mental Health and the Law and our final exam consisted of watching Sling Blade and answering the question “What if anything is wrong with Carl?”

  25. Anonymous

    May 19, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Sorry … that “Sling Blade” thing is hilarious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>