But I wanted to take Poverty Law!
The first factor you should consider in evaluating the diversity of courses is how many elective opportunities you have. Virtually every law school dictates your entire first year's curriculum, or all of it but one course. Beyond the first year, a school typically imposes only a few requirements: a course in professional responsibility, a writing requirement, and perhaps a clinical experience. Some schools, especially the smaller ones, dictate the entire second year, and a rare few dictate virtually the entire curriculum. The amount of diversity in elective courses is meaningless if you can take only four electives anyway.
Even when a school offers you the opportunity to take a large number of electives and lists wonderful courses in the catalog, problems can arise. The sad truth is that many law schools include courses in their catalogs which have not been offered in recent memory. To determine whether the courses which interest you are actually offered, you can ask the school to send you its course registration materials for several years, or you can simply ask whether the list of course offerings in the catalog has been revised to delete courses not recently offered.
Finally, a course can be offered regularly, but be so popular that you have very little chance of getting a seat. Even less popular courses will be difficult to sign up for if there are few elective opportunities. So even though it's really impossible to know your likelihood of getting poverty law, I have made an effort to estimate flexibility in elective offerings. For the results, click here; for the methodology, brave souls may take a peek over here.
Is there a specialty in corporate law?
To most law schools, the kind of "broad legal background" they advise most students to gain actually means a broad business background. You will be required or encouraged to take contracts, sales, corporations, wills and trusts, property, and personal and business taxes. You will also be encouraged to take a number of basic litigation-related courses, including evidence, civil and criminal procedure, conflicts and remedies. Courses on discrimination, poverty, environmental law, and legal history are rarely required. So in terms of specialties, these are the courses to check out.
I've heard patent lawyers make a lot of money.
Many people express an interest in international, patent, or entertainment law. These fields are reported to pay well, and to offer more exciting opportunities than, say, securities law. They also tend to require a more specialized background. A person who wants to specialize in international law should be fluent in several languages -- with Asian and Slavic languages being the most in demand, as global changes dictate. A patent lawyer should have at least an undergraduate degree in math, engineering or science (including computer science). And someone seeking to make their living at sports or entertainment law should know a few movie stars, professional athletes, or agents well enough to get a foot in the door. Without these prerequisites, you may find it very difficult to land a job in these "glamorous" fields.
In fact,.it may be difficult even with the requisite connections. The UCLA Entertainment and Media Law and Policy Program is kind enough to include this disclaimer in the application:
What about a joint degree program?
The most extreme sort of specialization is the joint degree program. The non-legal degree is often an MBA or MPA, but can be in areas as diverse as forestry, philosophy, or even theology. As "top" legal jobs become more scarce, students often seek a joint degree in hopes of rising to the top in the competition for jobs.
These programs are more likely to exist at university-affiliated law schools, since the non-legal degree is obtained outside the law school. However, this is the drawback of joint degree programs. Students would usually prefer to develop an area of specialization without investing the extra time required for the second degree. That's when the trouble arises. Since the joint degree courses are taught outside the law school, it's an all-or-nothing situation; you may not be able to specialize at all unless you get the joint degree. So my advice is, don't worry about these programs unless you're really sure you want to do them.
Where Can I find lists of special programs?
There is no one place that lists all special programs a school promotes. And any such list would be misleading: some schools call six courses a specialty, while others with the same six courses don't. In fact, specialty designations are so misleading and in such flux that there is currently no published list. It's better to look at the whole curriculum than to look for a list of specialties. You can check the law schools' curricula on their web pages; or, in some cases, you can download pdf's of their catalogs from those same web pages.
I have found a good list of Semester Abroad and Summer Abroad programs approved by the ABA. Note that you don't have to attend the sponsoring law school to participate in the program. Most will let students at other law schools join. But you'll have to make sure your own law school will give you academic credit for the program.
See You in Court!
As many of you know, not all lawyers are litigators, despite what you see on Court TV. And not all law schools set out to produce litigators. Since I have a client this year who is particularly interested in litigation, I did some research for her. It seemed a waste to spend all that time gathering data for just one person so, in my usual generous manner, I'm sharing it with you right here.