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J.D. Program and Curriculum

During your three years at Columbia Law School, you’ll leverage all the benefits of a world-class institution and join a tight-knit community of driven intellectuals who are poised to be leaders in the field of law.

Your J.D. academic experience at Columbia Law School is powered by connections that go far beyond the classroom. 

  • Connect your studies to your practice. The Law School offers globally focused courses in both emerging and traditional areas of law and our robust curriculum covers the most compelling issues in modern legal scholarship.
  • Connect with legal and local communities. Participate in a broad range of clinics, externships, simulations, policy labs, and other public service opportunities, which provide an insider’s view into how the law operates in practical settings.
  • Connect with faculty experts and mentors. Work with top-tier scholars and practitioners to tackle real-world challenges, employing creative combinations of data science, advocacy, and litigation.
  • Connect with a global society. From the classroom to the clinic, you will learn to think critically and responsibly about the law and its impact on individual lives, judicial institutions, and international affairs.
  • Connect with your future. By the time you graduate, you will have the tools and experience you need to successfully practice law in today’s fast-paced, globalized society.


In your first year of law school (1L), you will build a strong foundation in legal concepts, reasoning, and analysis. Explore the roadmap for the 1L year, which plots out every academic, career development, and student life milestone month by month. 

1L Foundation Curriculum

Civil Procedure: Students are introduced to the principal elements of the civil litigation process, including the major phases of a lawsuit, issues of standing and jurisdiction, the effects of prior adjudication, the role of the jury, and alternatives to formal adjudication. This course also covers pleadings, discovery, pretrial adjudication, pre- and post-trial motions, and remedies such as injunctions and punitive damages

Constitutional Law: This course explores the architecture of the Constitution, the American tradition of judicial review, and theories of constitutional interpretation and enforcement. Students learn about the individual and group rights afforded by the Constitution, its amendments, and two centuries of judicial interpretation, and they consider the foundations of constitutional consent, authorization, and limitations on states and the federal government, including separation of powers.

Contracts: Contract law examines the nature of promises. Explore how contracts are formed, interpreted, breached, and enforced. Consider contracts within a range of contexts, such as the sale of goods or land as well as employment or family agreements, and discuss legal doctrines that govern contracts in relation to theories of justice, economic analysis, and other frameworks for evaluating public policy. 

Criminal Law: Defining and administering the penal code is at the forefront of policy debates across the United States. This course considers crimes and defense strategies in light of the purposes of punishment (e.g., deterrence or retribution), the application and adjudication of law by the judicial system, and the role of criminal sanctions in modern society. The course also addresses the intersection of criminal law with criminology, jurisprudence, and social theory.

Foundation-Year Moot Court: To help students develop the core skills of legal practice, such as writing and delivering an argument, the Foundation-Year Moot Court requires each student to write a legal brief and argue the case orally in front of a panel of judges. Students also may choose to participate in one of many approved extramural moot court competitions in specialized areas of law, such as international or intellectual property.

Legal Methods I and II: Legal Methods I offers an intensive introduction to the legal system and case analysis. All students take Legal Methods I, and each section shares a virtually uniform curriculum. Legal Methods II builds on that introduction, exposing students to important legal methods and jurisprudential, ethical, social, or cultural perspectives relevant to different areas of the law. Students have the opportunity to choose which section of Legal Methods II they take, depending on their own intellectual and professional interests.

Legal Practice Workshop I and II: In the fall semester, students are given intensive training in the research, writing, and analytical skills needed in legal practice through written assignments situated in practice contexts, seminar discussions, and personal conferences. The second part of the workshop, in the spring, emphasizes appellate advocacy. Students research, write, and argue an appellate brief through the Foundation-Year Moot Court program or one of the alternative extramural competitions.

Property: As a core social institution, property law poses fundamental questions about efficiency, fairness, the distribution of wealth, and the tension between public and private rights. This course examines the history and theory of ownership, government regulation, and the legal devices for allocation and development of resources. Questions about ownership of intellectual property (such as artistic and digital creations) are considered, and emerging issues, such as the ownership of body parts and cyberspace, also are explored.

Torts: Tort law focuses on the common-law doctrines and precedents that assign duties of care and liability for noncontractual wrongs. This course considers negligence, the role of custom, malpractice, emotional and economic harm, causation, strict liability, products liability, nuisances, damages, defenses, and alternatives to litigation.

First-Year Elective: First-year students choose one elective course for the spring semester. Recent offerings include:

  • Corporations
  • Empirical Analysis of Law
  • Federal Income Taxation
  • Ideas of the First Amendment
  • International Law 
  • Labor Law
  • Law and Contemporary Society
  • Law and Legal Institutions in China
  • Lawyering for Change
  • Legislation and Regulation
  • Transnational Litigation

For the latest information on our curriculum, special programs, law journals, and experiential learning opportunities, visit the course guide.

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Public Interest/Public Service

No matter what your area of interest, find ways to incorporate public interest and public service into your academic program and career.

Academics Careers

Related Experiential Learning

Policy Lab

Structural Change in Public Education is an immersive full-semester program bringing together graduate and professional students from around the country to study and gain hands-on experience helping public education systems achieve the systemic legal and policy change needed to improve educational equity in the US and Brazil. For more information, visit our website.

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