When St. John’s Law 1Ls start their first day of regular class this fall, they won’t be strangers to case analysis and statutory interpretation, to terms like stare decisis and dicta, or to navigating the Socratic method.
That’s because incoming first years spend their first two weeks of study preparing for the scope and rigor of a legal education in the Law School’s highly innovative Introduction to Law course. Taught in small sections by Dean Michael A. Simons and Professors Marc O. DeGirolami, Anita Krishnakumar, Mark L. Movsesian, Robert A. Ruescher, and Jeff Sovern, the course generally covers:
Basics of Our Legal System
Students begin with an introduction to the U.S. legal system, with a particular focus on the role of judges in deciding cases and making law.Case Analysis
Students explore the role that precedent plays in guiding judicial decisions, learn how to synthesize a line of cases, and examine changes and developments in the law in light of new circumstances and the evolution in legal thinking.Statutory Analysis
Students study various approaches taken to reading and interpreting statutes, referring when necessary to legislative history and legal maxims.Legal Writing
Students complete several writing assignments dealing with case analysis and statutory construction.Law School Basics
Throughout, students learn the basic skills necessary to succeed in their other classes, including how to brief cases, how to outline course material, and how to approach law school exams.
“Introduction to Law prepares students to hit the ground running in their first-year courses,” Dean Simons says. “It introduces them to law school, to the legal profession, and to the central sources and methods of legal analysis, with an emphasis on analyzing cases and statutes.”
A highlight of last year’s Introduction to Law curriculum was a visit from Hon. Robert Katzmann Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and author of the book Judging Statutes. Judge Katzmann spoke to the 1Ls about statutory interpretation and the role of lawyers in the U.S. adversary and political systems. He also offered them guidance on their studies, on professionalism, and on career development.
“I tell my students that just as plumbers have tools, so do lawyers, and the students need to make the tools in the lawyer's toolbox their own,” Professor Sovern says. “How do judges and lawyers interpret cases and statutes? What do lawyers do when a case hurts their client's position? How do judges decide cases in the absence of a precedent? The genius of Introduction to Law is that it introduces students to these questions and more in a systematic way that enables them to see the ideas that underpin the answers, the critiques of those ideas, and how they fit together. It’s the chair in which the other courses sit in that it provides a foundation for the modes of thinking students will develop in those other classes.”
Complementing Introduction to Law is the full-year 1L Legal Writing course, which includes instruction in legal research, the preparation of a memorandum of law and a brief, and the presentation of an oral argument. The 1Ls also take Lawyering, a two-credit intersession course in January that focuses on negotiation skills and the companion skills of interviewing clients and drafting agreements.
“From Introduction to Law, to Legal Writing and Lawyering, to core foundational courses in Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Property, we help our 1Ls build the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in law school and in the competitive legal marketplace,” says Vice Dean Larry Cunningham. “These offerings, along with the individualized career counseling we provide from day one, reflect our comprehensive, ongoing commitment to enhancing the experience of St. John’s first-year law students.”