Here’s the truth: For many students excited to work for the public and the marginalized, the first year of law school can be especially disorienting.  It’s not always obvious how the foundational, core curriculum you must master intersects with the vision of service and equity you’ve dreamt of.  Electives seem far in the future.  So let us offer a creative and honest way to engage your 1L core classes. Indeed, these classes lay the foundation for public interest and social justice lawyering.

In the first year, you will take Corporate Responsibility and Liability (through it will be called Torts).  You’ll learn the fundamentals of Civil Rights and Environmental Litigation (but your casebook will be titled ‘Civil Procedure’).  You’ll study Foundations of Environmental Law (also known as Property) and The History of Crime and Incarceration in the United States (also known as Criminal Law).

You’ll master Basics of Consumer Rights and Remedies (also known as Contracts) and you’ll spend hours pouring over Key Debates on States’ Rights, Reproductive Justice, Affirmative Action, Gender Identity, Free Speech, and More (i.e., Constitutional Law.)

You’ll also learn How to Write a Winning Brief and What Makes an Oral Argument Outstanding (the classes will be called Legal Research & Writing and Written & Oral Advocacy).

Torts, Property, Contracts and the other core classes teach you the building blocks of our legal system.  They will arm you with critical concepts and skills that will always be relevant to every field of law, like how to read cases and build legal arguments–the skills just aren’t always framed in a social justice or public interest way.  

But you can learn more than what appears in your casebooks.  Many professors are ready, willing, and able to talk about how the raw material intersects with social justice issues. If you keep your mind open, stay connected to the community around you, and embrace opportunities to see beyond the traditional text, you will have learned a tremendous amount about social justice and the public good.  

In addition, we recommend that you find ways to learn through experience. If there is a clinic or pro bono project that speaks to you, go for it.  If the Henderson Center is hosting a talk or workshop that catches your eye, attend. Student organizations, the Social Justice Student Network, and law journals are also terrific places to connect and learn.  And reach out to lawyers and professors whose work you admire. They will almost always be thrilled to meet you.


In your second and third years you’ll be free to select your own courses. We urge you to investigate all the class offerings, keeping in mind our advice to balance doctrinal with skills and clinical courses. There are a plethora of courses that would meet anyone’s definition of public interest and social justice.  

Berkeley Law’s experiential education offerings are diverse, exciting, and growing all the time.  These ‘hands-on’ learning experiences include clinics, pro bono initiatives, field placements, practicums, and more. We can’t emphasize how terrific it is to leave law school with some on-the-ground lawyering under your belt, and so we encourage you to think beyond the casebook as you create your second and third year experience. 

One last bit of wisdom:  Don’t judge a course or opportunity by its title.  You will come to see that there are public interest and social justice angles to nearly every legal question and subject.  Find what speaks to you as a public interest and social justice advocate no matter what class you are in.  Not sure how where to find the social justice relevance of a course?  Talk to your fellow students, ask professors, and visit the public interest and social justice centers on campus.  We are always happy to help.