First-year Curriculum

Main Content

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, Torts, and a choice of Property, Administrative Law, Business Associations, or International Law, plus one year-long course: Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing. Students also begin Duke’s required Professional Development Curriculum, which continues throughout their time in law school. At the end of the first year, students are well prepared to tackle the demands of the upper-level curriculum.


Left Side Content

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

Right Side Content

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

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

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


First-Year Electives

In the spring, first-year JD students will choose one elective from the following courses. Because Property remains a required course and degree requirement, students who opt to take a different course in the spring will instead take Property in the fall of their 2L year.

Left Side Content

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 credits

Administrative Law
A study of the legal framework governing administrative agencies under the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act, with a particular focus on agency rulemaking and adjudication; Presidential power; Congressional control of agencies through statutes and other mechanisms of oversight; and judicial review of agency actions. 3 credits.

Right Side Content

Business Associations
This course surveys the law providing ground rules for the organization, internal governance, and financing of corporations and other forms of business associations such as partnerships and limited liability companies. Topics include limited liability, fiduciary duties, shareholder voting, derivative suits, control transactions, mergers and acquisitions, public contests, and trading. The emphasis throughout is on the functional analysis of legal rules as one set of constraints on business associations, among others. 4 credits.

International Law
This course offers a general introduction to the international legal system and provides a foundation for more specialized courses. Topics covered include the sources, actors and institutions of international law; the application of international law by U.S. courts; adjudication by international tribunals; the extraterritorial application of domestic law; and an introduction to specific topics, such as human rights, international criminal law, international trade and investment, environmental protection, and the use of force. 3 credits.


Professional Development Credits

First-year students will also begin work toward completing a two-credit, non-academic degree requirement, Duke Law’s Professional Development (PD) program. The PD curriculum is designed to help students identify and build professional skills needed to succeed in the legal profession. During their first year, students attend several classroom sessions intended to familiarize them with law school and the legal profession. Through activities including goal-setting and self-reflection, in consultation with their career counselors, the PD program helps students directly link  their studies and courses to their summer internships and their burgeoning legal careers. This integrated experience, earning credits both inside the classroom and outside the law school, deepens the connections between the substantive and practical training students undergo throughout their time in law school.