First-year Curriculum

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Duke Law's first-year curriculum provides a firm grounding in the core subjects of the study of law and rigorous training in legal analysis, reasoning, and writing.

Student in classStudents take six semester-long courses: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, and Torts, and two year-long courses: Foundations of Law and Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing. At the end of the first year, students are well prepared to tackle the demands of the upper-class curriculum.


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Foundations of Law
This year-long, signature course exposes all first year students to foundational legal concepts, themes and issues in the study of law. The first semester presents a historical perspective on such basic ideas as the common law, equity, and American Legal Realism. We will consider the development of legal thought in the Anglo-American legal tradition, the role of external perspectives such as political science in understanding and practicing law, and the relationship between law and other forms of normative thought. The second semester will examine the rise of the administrative state and the central role of agencies and regulations in our legal system. The course will end with an extensive case study. 2.0 credits.

Civil Procedure

A consideration of the basic problems of civil procedure, designed to acquaint students with the fundamental stages and concerns of litigation, e.g., jurisdiction, pleading, discovery, trial, choice of law, and multiparty actions. In addition, this course will highlight a number of specialized topics including the role of juries in deciding civil disputes, the ethical responsibilities of the litigation attorney, and the development of alternative dispute resolution systems. At several points, this course will focus on an analysis of the procedural system's operations as revealed through empirical studies. 4.5 credits

Constitutional Law

An examination of the distribution of and limitations upon governmental authority under the Constitution of the United States. Included are study of the doctrine of judicial review of legislative and executive action, the powers of Congress and the President, the limitations on state governmental powers resulting from the existence or exercise of congressional power, and judicial protection against the exercise of governmental power in violation of rights, liberties, privileges, or immunities conferred by the Constitution. 4.5 credits


An examination of the formation and legal operations of contracts; their assignment, their significance to third parties, and their relationship to restitution and commercial law developments; the variety, scope, and limitations on remedies; and the policies, jurisprudence, and historical development of promissory liability. 4.5 credits

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Criminal Law

An introductory study of the law of crimes and the administration of criminal justice, including analysis of the criminal act and the mental element in crime, consideration of specific offenses as defined by statute and the common law, and discussion of typical defenses in relation to specific crimes. One of the purposes of this course is to introduce the students to the nature of social control mechanisms and the role of law in a civilized society. 4.5 credits

Legal Analysis, Research and Writing

An introductory study of the various forms of legal writing and modes of legal research. Through an integrated approach to writing and research, the course begins by analyzing the components of judicial opinions, and ends with the students independently researching and writing a sophisticated appellate brief. The principal goal of this course is the mastery of the basic tools of legal analysis, the principles of legal writing, and the techniques of legal research using both print and online resources. 4 credits


A study of the law of property, its objectives and its institutions. This course investigates how property rights and institutions affect resources, prosperity, fairness, freedom, community, and the sometimes conflicting interests of individuals, groups, and governments, in specific applications such as land, possessions, energy, environmental resources, ideas, music, the family, and the self. The course examines doctrines such as acquisition, exclusion, transfer, estates and future interests, covenants and easements, trespass and nuisance, zoning, landlord-tenant and housing law, and compensation for government takings of property. 4.5 credits


An analysis of liability for personal injuries and injuries to property. The law of negligence occupies a central place in the course content, but this course also considers other aspects of tort liability, such as strict liability, liability of producers and sellers of products, nuisance, liability for defamation and invasion of privacy, and commercial torts. The subjects of causation, damages, insurance (including automobile no-fault compensation systems), and workers' compensation are also included. 4.5 credits