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Legal Studies Curriculum

The Legal Studies Program is an undergraduate major in the College of Letters and Sciences. The program's mission is to provide a liberal education across traditional disciplines, focusing on the theory and operation of law and legal institutions. The courses in the Legal Studies major expose students to the many facets of law as a social phenomenon - its evolution, function, motivating ideas and effects. The major is not intended as preparation for law school because the emphasis is on exploring broadly defined questions about law from a variety of perspectives, rather than on training for the profession. The Legal Studies major is, however, suitable for pre-law students.

Theme Groups

Declaring the Major

Prerequisites for the Major

Gateway Courses

Requirements for the Major

Senior Thesis Option

Distinction in the Major

Honors in the Major

Courses Satisfying Requirements


Theme Groups

The curriculum is designed around the following five themes, each of which is associated with a group of courses, and each of which incorporates comparative and historical approaches:

Theme Group 1: Legal Institutions

Description: Institutions are at the core of social life. They govern our interactions, distribute power and resources, and influence how we make sense of the world. The classes in this theme group focus on those institutions involved in the creation and application of law. They explore such questions as how legal institutions evolve; how legal institutions help determine the shape of law in doctrine and in action and how and whether, in turn, legal institutions can be shaped to create different social outcomes. Institutions are central to the studies of society and politics throughout the disciplines, and the classes in the group include perspectives from history, anthropology, sociology, political science and political theory.

Theme Group 2: Processes of Legal Order and Disorder

Description: This theme examines the dynamics of order at the individual and societal level. In the course of this examination, students should be made aware of the political and social biases that can underlie definitions of order. This theme should also allow students to address how social and political biases relate to divisions of class, race, and gender, and how the mechanisms of conflict resolution and order maintenance can be used to reinforce or challenge existing power structures.

Theme Group 3: Law and Social Forces

Description: This theme group explores the intersection between law, social structures and social movements. The courses in this group address social inequality, generally in the US context, grounded in ethno-racial, gender, and sexuality-based difference. At critical points, the struggle for equality has taken pointedly legal form, whether in the shape of campaigns for legislative change or recognition, or through the litigation of particular cases. Legal categories have informed social identities. Equally, changing social identities have pushed back upon legal categories. The courses integrate broad social dynamics with the rise of organized social movements that use law as an arena in which to reassess social life and values.

Theme Group 4: Law and Culture

Description: This theme group introduces students to legal thought, institutions, and practices beyond mainstream or contemporary legal systems, specifically modern Euro-American legal cultures. Courses in this theme group present either culturally based challenges to mainstream modern legal systems or legal systems that are culturally or historically distinct from them. The comparative study of distinct legal traditions and movements forces us to reexamine the cultural presuppositions embedded in modern legal systems, revealing both good reasons for defending mainstream Euro-American laws and arguments and models for changing or questioning prevailing systems. Courses examine historical developments in or affecting law, non-Western legal thought or traditions, and the effect of cultural institutions such as religion, literature, or media on law.

Theme Group 5: Law and Theory

Description: Many theoretical and philosophical questions are articulated as propositions about law: its nature, sources, contents, and relations to other aspects of social life. While only some philosophers or social, political or legal theorists work specifically in the area of legal theory, almost literally all work in any of these areas contributes to our understanding of the sources and nature of law, legal institutions and legal practices, and for many if not most theorists explicit discussions of law are central elements of their work. The classes in this theme group focus on the ways in which law is treated as a working concept or as a subject of study in theoretical works, and conversely on how understandings drawn from theoretical writings inform our own understanding of law in all its dimensions.

Declaring the Major

Students wishing to declare the major should schedule an appointment with the legal studies advisor. To schedule an appointment please visit this link

Prerequisites for the Major

To declare the legal studies major, students must complete three prerequisite courses with grades of C or better. The three prerequisite courses consist of: a Communication A course; a Quantitative Reasoning A course; and one "Gateway Course" chosen from the list below.

Gateway Courses

Complete one of the following:

Legal St/Soc 131: Criminal Justice in America; or

Legal St/Poli Sci 217: Law, Politics, and Society

Requirements for the Major

In addition to the Gateway Courses, 10 courses are required to complete the legal studies major. These courses must be distributed as follows:

1. Two courses from those listed in the Legal Institutions Theme Group.

2. Four courses distributed across at least three of the following Theme Groups:

3. Two methods courses: one research design and one basic statistics (the latter also can be used to complete the L&S Quantitative Reasoning B requirement). Students are urged to complete this requirement by the end of the junior year.

Courses that fulfill the statistics requirement are Econ 310, Gen Bus 303, Poli Sci 551, Psych 210, Soc 359 and 360, Stat 301 and Stat 371.

Courses that fulfill the research design requirement are Psych 225, Soc 357, Soc 358, Poli Sci 200, and Poli Sci 544.

4. All Legal Studies majors are required to take one Core Perspectives course. The following courses count as Core Perspectives courses if they are taught by core Legal Studies faculty; if any of these courses is taught by non-Legal Studies faculty, the determination of whether they will count for Core Perspectives credit will be made prior to the beginning of the semester in which the course is offered. Each of these courses is intended to provide a broad and intellectually flexible perspective that can serve as a framework for gaining a deeper understanding of the material taught in other courses in the program. The Core Perspectives courses do not necessarily overlap; the criterion for inclusion of courses in the list below is that each explores its substantive content area through a range of social scientific and humanistic approaches.


b. One of the following alternatives:

(1) Either a senior thesis (6-8 credits); or

(2) Two additional courses from the five Theme Groups.

Students are advised that the Core Perspectives courses may not be taught every semester; consequently students should enroll in a Core Perspectives course before their final semester.

5. At least two (2) courses in the major must have substantial content dealing with countries or cultures other than the United States. An asterisk (*) in the list of courses below designates courses meeting this requirement (some topics courses may also fulfill this requirement).

6. Important Considerations;

No more than four (4) courses from a single department or program will count toward the legal studies major; this restriction does not apply to courses listed in or cross listed with legal studies.

Courses may appear in more than one Theme Group and/or Core Perspective but each course will only satisfy one requirement. Courses will not be double counted.

All students are required to fulfill the L&S requirement of at least 15 credits of upper-level work in the major completed in residence. Core Perspectives courses and all Theme Group courses designated with an I, A, or D level count toward the required 15 credits of upper-level work in the major.

Senior Thesis Option

Students pursuing the senior thesis option must, in their senior year, arrange to register for six (6) to eight (8) credits of 691/692 Senior Thesis, or 681/682 Senior Honors Thesis, in consecutive semesters for three (3) to four (4) credits each semester. Students are responsible for contacting a faculty member whom they would like to act as the senior thesis advisor; the major advisor can assist students in the process of selecting a senior thesis faculty advisor. Students must have the approval of the senior thesis faculty advisor before enrollment because the student will enroll for thesis credits in the department of the senior thesis faculty advisor. A student will not be able to enroll for thesis credits until after meeting with that faculty advisor. Students who plan to attend law school or graduate school and who maintain an overall grade point average of 3.0 or better at the beginning of the senior year (86 credits) are strongly urged to select the senior thesis option.

The purpose of the senior thesis is to allow students to focus their interests and develop knowledge in one area of the field. Students may choose any legal studies topic for the senior thesis. The project involves using the library to review existing research and conducting original research designed by the student under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Early planning is best. Students contemplating the senior thesis option should schedule a legal studies advising appointment at least one semester before enrolling in senior thesis credits. During the advising appointment, students will obtain the Legal Studies Senior Thesis Handbook, discuss proposed research topics, and receive legal studies approval for the proposed topic.

A copy of the senior thesis paper, approved by the faculty advisor, must be submitted to the major advisor upon completion of the project. The senior thesis faculty advisor also must provide the legal studies department with a Thesis Evaluation (a copy of which is in the appendix of the Senior Thesis Handbook).

Distinction in the Major

Distinction in Legal Studies will be granted to students graduating with a 3.85 (un-rounded) GPA in upper-level Legal Studies coursework. This standard is subject to periodic review by the faculty. Distinction will be awarded beginning with May 2013 graduates.

Honors in the Major

To earn a B.A. with Honors in the Major in Legal Studies, students must first declare legal studies as their major and then apply for admission to the Legal Studies Program honors program (the entrance requirements are listed below). Students working for Honors in Legal Studies must complete the standard major requirements.

Legal Studies Honors Program Entrance Requirements

Honors Program Requirements (in addition to the standard requirements for the major)

Honors Thesis

This must be a two-semester project (Legal St 681/682 or the equivalent course in the advisor's home department). Normally, the thesis will include thesis-planning activities during the junior year (which might be done in conjunction with the research design and/or statistics courses). Under special circumstances, an honors student may petition the legal studies associate director to waive the thesis requirement and substitute other advanced courses taken during the senior year.

Courses That Satisfy the Requirements to Complete the Major

Because the Legal Studies major relies heavily upon many departments and programs at the university that offer relevant courses, the list of courses that count toward the legal studies major is constantly being updated. Students should visit the Fall, Spring, and Summer Course lists for the most up-to-date list of courses. The list below, organized by Theme Group, is illustrative rather than inclusive.


General Bus 301: Business Law

History 331: American Constitutional and Legal History

Legal St/History 261: American Legal History to 1860

Legal St/History 262: American Legal History from 1860s to Present

Legal St 444: Law in Action

Legal St/Soc 415: The Legal Profession

*Legal St 442: The Civil Law Tradition

*Legal St 409: Human Rights in Law and Society

Legal St/Soc 641: Sociology of Law

*Poli Sci 316: Principles of International Law

*Poli Sci 317: Politics of Human Rights

*Poli Sci 338: The European Union

Poli Sci 411: Constitutional Law I

Poli Sci 412: Constitutional Law II

Poli Sci 417: The American Judicial System

Poli Sci 420: Administrative Law

Poli Sci 426: Legislative Process

Poli Sci 446: Politics of Government Regulation

Poli Sci 470: The First Amendment

Poli Sci 471: Civil Liberties in the United States

*Poli Sci 617: Comparative Legal Institutions


Bus/RMI 615: Liability Risk Management

Comm Arts 371: Communication and Conflict Resolution

Comm Arts 671: Communication and Social Conflict

Econ 453: Collective Bargaining and Public Policy

Econ 539: Public Sector Bargaining

Envir St 368: Environmental Law, Toxic Substances, and Conservation

History 344: Age of the American Revolution, 1763-1789

Legal St/Soc 694: Field Observation in Criminal Justice

Poli Sci 452: Criminal Law and Justice

Psych 411: Topics: Psych of Juvenile Delinquency

Soc 441: Criminology

Soc 446: Juvenile Delinquency


Afroamer 233: History of Racial Protest Movements in America

Econ 522: Economics of Law

History 408: American Labor History 1900-Present

History 628: History of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States

Legal St/Soc 641: Sociology of Law

Legal St 663: Cyber Law

Legal St/Gender & Women St 422: Women and the Law

*Poli Sci 317: Politics of Human Rights

Psych 411: Topics: Legal Psychology: Criminal & Civil Issues

Soc 220: Ethnic Movements in the United States


*Anthro 350: Political Anthropology

*Anthro 448: Anthropology of Law

*Hebrew/Jewish St 448: Classical Rabbinic Texts

*Jewish St/Relig St/Med His 613: Jewish Law & Ethics in Comparative Perspective

*Jewish St 625: The Holocaust: Facts, Trials, Verdicts, Post-Verdicts

*LCA/Legal St/Relig St 628: Hindu Law

*Legal St/History 502: Law and Colonialism

*Legal St/HIstory 510: Legal Pluralism


*Legal St/History 426: The History of Punishment

*Legal St/History 459: Rule of Law

Journ 675: Issues in Media Law and Ethics

Med Hist 558: Ethical Problems Raised by Biomedical Technology

Philos 341: Contemporary Moral Issues

Philos 559: Philosophy of Law

Philos/Med Hist/Agronomy/Rur Soc 565: The Ethics of Modern Biotechnology

Poli Sci 530: Ethics and Values in Policy Making

*Fulfills the requirement that at least two (2) courses in the major must have substantial content dealing with countries or cultures other than the United States.