General Practice and Litigation

WCL offers a wide variety of courses related to civil litigation, which cover both the substantive law that is involved in various kinds of conflicts, and the processes and theories that litigators need to master in order to practice. Required courses such as civil procedure, constitutional law, and professional responsibility and many course electives, such as evidence, administrative law and more, form the background knowledge base. In addition, WCL offers a number of experiential courses and clinics that give students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in interviewing and counseling clients, developing case theories, conducting fact investigations and using formal discovery, presenting persuasive arguments both orally and in writing, negotiating, engaging in motions practice, and representing a client at trial.

Lawyers interested in civil litigation work at private firms of all sizes, for state or federal government, for legal aid organizations representing the indigent, and as in-house counsel at corporations. Although most large organizations will divide lawyers into practice areas, litigation is a skill that is transferable among substantive areas of the law. For example, lawyers in the Civil Rights section of the Department of Justice spend much of their time following the same pleading and discovery rules as do lawyers in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, even though the subject matter of their caseloads differs. Thus, litigation skills will serve students well in an array of practice settings and in a variety of different substantive fields.

The foundational course for any student interested in civil litigation is Civil Procedure, which is of course a mandatory course for all first year students. In the second and third years, students interested in civil litigation should consider taking courses such as evidence and remedies. Evidence is a pre-requisite to taking many of the clinical courses offered at WCL, and thus students are advised to take that course in their second year if possible.

Upper-level students should consider taking one or more courses offered through the Civil Trial Advocacy Program. Civil Trial Advocacy classes are team-taught in small sections by a sitting or retired judge and an experienced litigator. Students divide into litigating teams that “try” three separate cases based on case files developed by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, culminating in a final mock trial. The Civil Trial Advocacy Program also offers a course on pre-trial litigation that provides students with the opportunity to draft pleadings, interrogatories, requests for admissions and documents, and motions for summary judgment, and another course in which students can obtain experience working with the rules of evidence.

Students can also gain valuable experience through participation in one of WCLs clinics. In our clinics, students have complete responsibility for representing real clients in real cases while being supervised and taught by full-time faculty members. While there are clinics that specialize in a variety of kinds of cases and clients, all emphasize the transferability of what students learn from one practice setting to many others. Nearly all of the clinics provide students with opportunities to represent clients in contested matters in courts and administrative agencies. The General Practice Clinic and the Women in the Law Clinic both do general civil litigation. The DC Law Students in Court is run by a consortium of law schools and does civil practice as well. In addition, the Disability Rights Clinic, the Immigrant Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic and the Intellectual Property Clinic all provide students with civil litigation experience.

Upper-level students particularly interested in litigating in federal court should consider taking Federal Courts, which addresses the role of the federal courts, including the limits on federal jurisdiction and the rules governing lawsuits against local, state, and federal government and its officials. Those who are interested in working on more complex cases, such as class actions or mass torts, should consider taking an advanced civil procedure course.

Finally, students who are particularly interested in appellate litigation should take an appellate advocacy and jurisdiction course, which teaches students how to write appellate briefs and describes the limits on appellate jurisdiction.


Key Electives