Selecting Courses with the Bar in Mind

Selecting Law School Courses with the Bar Exam in Mind

By: Victoria Burnette, Regional Director, Helix Bar Review Engagement

Law school is a significant investment, and if you want to maximize your return, you should be thoughtful about the courses you decide to take – to prepare yourself for your legal career, but also to ensure you’ve acquired the fundamental knowledge and skills you’ll need to pass the bar exam. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind as you plan your next semester (and beyond): 


Graduation Requirements
First and foremost, find out whether you are required to take any upper-level courses. For example, most law schools require a course in professional responsibility or legal ethics. But your school may have course or credit requirements beyond that – some common prerequisites for graduation are big survey courses like Evidence or Corporations, professional skills classes or clinics, and seminar courses that satisfy an upper-level writing requirement. You don’t want to be in your final semester of law school when you learn that you’re missing a mandatory course. So, add the classes you must take to your schedule before you plan out the rest of your semester(s) to ensure you’re on track to graduate on time.


Bar-Tested Subjects 
When planning out your law school schedule, remember the gatekeeper to your career – the bar exam. There are seven subjects tested on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) – the multiple-choice portion of the exam in every jurisdiction but Louisiana – Civil Procedure, Contracts, Torts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, and Real Property. You probably recognize most of these subjects from your first-year curriculum, and those that aren’t covered during your first-year are often required upper-level courses. Why? Because they’re big, wieldy, complex areas of law that are tested frequently on the bar exam – on the MBE – and often on the essay portion of the test as well.

While we’re talking essays, there are additional subjects that are frequently tested on the essay portion of the bar exam – whether you’re taking the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) in a Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) jurisdiction or a state-specific bar examination. Some of these subjects, like Family Law, are pretty straightforward, and it’s feasible to learn what you need to know during bar review. But other areas of law – like Corporations and Wills and Trusts – are complex with a wide breadth of tested material, and it’s a good idea to take these courses in law school so you’re not learning them for the first time during bar prep. The less intuitive and more challenging a bar-tested topic is for you, the more important it is to take the course in law school, where you can ask questions in class, attend your professor’s office hours, and study with a group who are all learning the material at the same time. Setting the foundation in law school for these complex subjects will help make bar prep much smoother.

For your reference, here is a handy list of all subjects tested on the Uniform Bar Exam.

Law School Subjects Tested on the UBE:
Civil Procedure
Constitutional Law
Criminal Law
Criminal Procedure
Real Property
Business Associations (Agency and Partnership; Corporations and LLCs)
Sales (UCC Article 2)
Family Law
Trusts and Estates (Decedents’ Estates; Trusts; Future Interests)
Secured Transactions


Take Advantage of Bar Resources Offered by Your School 
Pop into your office of academic or bar support to find out whether your school offers any courses to help students prepare for the bar exam. If so, make room in your schedule to take them! Most classes are taught by faculty that are experts on the bar prep skills and strategies needed to pass the exam. These bar courses are not a substitute for a commercial bar review course, like Helix Bar Review, but they will put you in a much stronger position when you begin studying for the bar exam after graduation.

Don’t Ignore Skills
Law students sometimes select classes for the wrong reasons – because they’re an “easy A” or they don’t have a final exam, for example – but you should try to ensure that you’re still developing the skills you will need to pass the bar exam as an upper-level student. Skills like memorization (psst, don’t avoid closed book exams), essay writing (don’t load up on classes with papers and projects instead of final exams), and practical legal analysis are key to bar success (and largely helpful in the practice of law as well).


Electives provide a great way to discover different areas of the law and dive deeper into topics that excite you. Register for courses that interest you or help you achieve long-term career goals. If you know what field of law you plan to practice in, then take courses related to that field. When choosing electives, consider courses that may complement one another. For instance, if you are interested in entertainment law, you should take Entertainment Law and Trademarks. And pay attention to course prerequisites. Often an elective on a specific topic will require that you’ve first taken the general survey course. So, make sure you’re reading the fine print when you look through your course catalogue and plan accordingly! 


Balance The Load 
Strive to create a balanced schedule that includes required bar courses but leaves room for your interests as well. Try to vary your course credit load and spread big, four-credit survey courses (that often require a lot of reading) and skills and seminar courses (that can be heavy on projects) over the course of your upper-level semesters. And don’t forget to take extracurricular obligations into account, as well. For example, if you’re vying for a leadership role on the e-board of your journal during the final year of law school, you may want to take a heavier course load during your 2L year to give yourself some room to breathe.


Keep these suggestions in mind when planning your schedule for next semester to make choosing your classes easier and ensure you get the most out of your law school experience. And remember – you don’t have to figure all of this out on your own. Check in with your school’s office of student or academic affairs to connect with an advisor to ensure that you’re creating a plan with all the specifics for your particular law school and jurisdiction in mind!