Design Your Education

At UW Law School, we want our students to design their education in a way that caters to their passions and fulfills their professional goals. 

Our students have many opportunities to experience our long-standing law-in-action tradition, which empowers them to navigate as successful lawyers in an increasingly complex, competitive and challenging world.

Incorporated throughout our extensive curriculum, this law-in-action philosophy places an emphasis on the dynamics of the law, meaning:

General Curriculum

1L Curriculum

Our full-time first-year program is designed to teach the fundamentals of legal analysis and reasoning, as well as legal research and writing, in a supportive setting. 

First Semester (15 credits)

  • Contracts (4 credits)
  • Introduction to Substantive Criminal Law (4 credits)
  • Civil Procedure I (4 credits)
  • Legal Research & Writing (3 credits)

Second Semester (14 Credits)

  • Property (4 credits)
  • Torts (4 credits)
  • Legal Research & Writing II (3 credits)
  • Elective (3 credits)*

*In your second semester, you will choose one elective (from a designated slate of courses) that suits your individual needs and interests. For more information, view the Guidelines for Choosing First-Year Electives.

2L & 3L Curriculum

In your 2L & 3L years of law school, you will have time both to explore the curriculum to determine where your interests lie and to develop the lawyering skills you will need when you graduate.

The graduation requirements and Wisconsin Diploma Privilege requirements will guide some of your course selection, but your schedule will largely be filled with electives in your 2L & 3L years. You will get to choose from an extraordinary breadth and depth of course offerings, affording you the opportunity to explore cutting-edge legal issues in the classroom and to apply your knowledge in one of our many clinical programs.

For general guidance on course selection, see Planning Your Academic Program, which includes:

  • Principles of course selection
  • How to select courses
  • Five approaches to selecting courses
  • Other considerations, including:
    • Bar exams
    • Sequence of courses
    • Transcripts
    • Study Abroad
    • Faculty connections
  • Areas of practice

To plan a personalized curriculum plan, reach out to our Interim Academic Advisor Jane Heymann.

Part-Time Options

Part-time students must complete the first-year curriculum within two years of entering and must complete the course work required for the J.D. degree within six years. First-year courses generally require you to be on campus four or five times per week and some are offered in the late afternoon or early evening.

Part-time students wishing to take courses only in the late afternoon or early evening should note that one-half of the first-year program courses are generally offered later in the day in alternate years, thus making it easier to complete the first-year program within the requisite two years.

For more information about going part-time, see:

Legal Research & Writing

1L students gain intensive legal research and writing experience in their first year at UW Law School, while upper-level students build on that foundation with advanced courses.

For more information, view the Legal Research & Writing program.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning provides hands-on experience and facilitates the development of practical skills, judgment and professional identity. The end goal of experiential learning is to equip our students to hit the ground running as a new lawyer.

For more information, view all Experiential Learning programs or jump directly to a particular program:

Student Learning Outcomes

At the University of Wisconsin Law School, we are committed to providing our students with the skills and knowledge needed to be excellent lawyers. Our long-standing law-in-action tradition in particular empowers our graduates to navigate an increasingly complex, competitive and challenging world.

The UW Law School faculty have established the following learning outcomes that we expect our students to attain by graduation:

  1. Students will demonstrate competency in their knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law.
  2. Students will demonstrate competency in legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication appropriate for a variety of legal contexts.
  3. Students will demonstrate competency in their awareness of ethical dilemmas likely to arise in legal practice and in their capability to identify and use legal and other resources that will lead to effective resolution of these dilemmas.
  4. Students will demonstrate competency in other professional skills needed as a member of the legal profession.
  5. Students will understand the concept of the law-in-action, including the procedures and social forces that influence legal outcomes and that affect the ability of legal professionals to represent clients and to create effective law.

Specialized Curriculums

Areas of Study Curriculum Guides

The areas of study curriculum guides are for students who have an interest in a particular area of practice and would like more guidance in developing an academic program targeted at that area of practice.

These guides contain recommendations, not requirements. There is no single correct plan or program, and there are many differing opinions as to the type and number of courses that should be taken.

Curricular Concentrations

The UW Law School faculty has established Curricular Concentrations in several areas of studies. Qualifying students are given a document reflecting the curricular achievement, though these do not qualify as certificate programs.

Directed Research & Directed Reading

Directed Research and Directed Reading are independent studies that afford students the opportunity to explore their unique interests and legal issues one-on-one with a faculty member. The scope of the independent study must be agreed upon in advance by the student and the supervising faculty. 

Directed research will result in the production of a research paper; a student’s directed reading will be tested by some form of written work. 

Directed reading and directed research are governed by Law School Rule 3.13Note that no more than eight credits of directed reading and six credits of directed research can be applied to the 90 credits required for the J.D. degree

For more information, see the Student Handbook 2.3.11: Directed Research & Directed Reading.

International Law Program & Study Abroad

The Law School hosts international students and professors, bringing diverse international perspectives to the classroom, and the university has one of the largest groups of international students in the country.

You can also study at one of the many foreign law schools with which the Law School has exchange agreements, create your own foreign study program, or participate in the foreign study programs of other U.S. law schools.

For more information, view International Law Program & Study Abroad options.

Interdisciplinary Study

Certificate Programs

The Law School offers two interdisciplinary certificate programs that provide an opportunity for concentrated study, but do not involve an additional degree:

  • Certificate in Healthy Advocacy
  • Certificate in Russian Area Studies

There are also certificates available to the wider University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student population, including Law students:

  • Certificate in Entrepreneurship
  • Certificate in Strategic Innovation
  • Certificate in Business, Environment & Social Responsibility (BESR)

For more information see the Certificate Programs.

Dual Degree Programs

The opportunities for graduate study beyond a law degree are particularly rich at the University of Wisconsin. The UW Law School offers dual degree opportunities in conjunction with master's and doctoral programs on the campus.

 The Law School has established programs with:

For more information about requirements, tuitions, and more, see the Dual Degree Programs.

Non-Law Courses

Of the 90 credits required for the J.D. degree, law students are allowed to apply up to six credits of graduate level or foreign language course work completed at other schools at the University (Law School Rule 3.08). 

For more information on how to do this, see the Student Handbook 2.5: Non-Law Courses.

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