Introduction to American Law

Donald Beskind and Kathryn Bradley

The first part of this course will introduce students to some distinctive aspects of United States law and legal institutions.  Students will explore the interrelationship between state and federal law, as well as the various sources of law, including constitutions, common law, statutes, and treaties.  Three issues involving significant public debate – gun control, same-sex marriage, and the Executive “travel bans” – will be used as lenses through which to examine the interplay between state and federal law and the respective roles of judicial, legislative, and public lawmaking, all against the backdrop of the US Constitution.  This part of the course will close with a consideration of the role of the lawyer in the US legal system by examining the education, bar admission, and regulation of lawyers, as well as the ethical obligations of lawyers.  The second part of the course will shift its focus to the trial court, looking at the role of the jury in US civil litigation.  Students will learn the history of the jury trial in American jurisprudence, and will explore relevant rules of evidence, discovery, and legal ethics.  Students also will have an opportunity to practice advocacy skills through a simplified mock trial, as well as understand the role of the jury in interpreting facts and seeking truth.