Our Unique First Year Curriculum

The first-year curriculum is designed to give law students the conceptual building blocks essential for their professional training. Over the course of two semesters, students will take six doctrinal courses in classic subject areas, two writing courses, one legal research course, and one hands-on course in lawyering skills and professional identity development. 

The First Semester

Doctrinal Courses

The first semester doctrinal courses are Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts. In Contracts, students study the law of promissory and related obligation, beginning with responsibilities that flow from the making of a promise. Torts introduces the law of civil liability, where parties can receive financial compensation for harm that is intentionally or negligently caused by another party or parties. Criminal law explores the roots of criminal liability in which the state prosecutes individuals for criminal offenses against society.


Students also take Lab in the first semester.  Lab is a novel approach to teaching first-year students about the practice and substance of law through a hands-on introduction to legal skills.  This course is unique to the University of New Mexico School of Law, which is a national leader in experiential learning.  Lab is taught by full-time members of the faculty in conjunction with adjunct professors who are practicing lawyers in the community.  The course meets in six small group sections of approximately 15 students, with each section having a dedicated professor.  The course is designed to enrich students’ understanding of the material covered in their doctrinal courses - Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts - through experiential learning.  Lab faculty use hypothetical case files related to criminal, tort, and contract law that present opportunities for students to draft legal documents, engage in simulated client interactions and court appearances, and address ethical issues.

Lab examines practice-related topics - including client-centered lawyering, cultural competency in practice, professionalism, ethics, case development and theory, fact investigation and development, client interviewing and counseling, problem solving and prospective lawyering, writing skills for law practice, and professional identity formation. In addition, Lab addresses issues related to law student and lawyer wellness, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence. 

Elements of Legal Argumentation (ELA) I

Elements of Legal Argumentation I is the foundational legal analysis and communication course. In the context of a problem-solving approach to legal writing, students learn how to do the information gathering, pre-thinking and argument development that are essential to good legal communication. Students learn to identify legal issues presented by specific factual situations. They are given an overview of collecting relevant information, including an introduction to legal research. Students learn how to connect this information as they analyze a legal problem in preparation for writing both predictive and persuasive documents. Students learn how to determine relevant legal rules and apply those rules to specific facts to arrive at a reasonable conclusion in a specific case. Students practice organizing the information and their analysis into a logical and coherent structured proof of their conclusion and then effectively presenting the proof in a specific format to a specific audience. Students also learn to perfect the mechanics of their documents as they learn techniques for effective revising and editing.

The Second Semester

Doctrinal Courses

The second semester doctrinal courses are Civil Procedure I, Property I and Introduction to Constitutional Law. In Civil Procedure I, students learn the technical rules that govern the movement of a civil case through the court system, from the filing of a claim - through discovery and pre-trial motions - up until trial. Property I examines the fundamental rules regarding interests in land and personal property. In Introduction to Constitutional Law, students study the structural framework established by the Constitution, including principles of federalism and the role of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Elements of Legal Argumentation (ELA) II

Elements of Legal Argumentation II continues the study and practice of legal reasoning and communication that began in ELA I. Students will have the opportunity to use their basic understanding of the core concepts and tools learned in ELA I as they complete a variety of both oral and written presentations. Focus is on argumentation and rhetoric as the means to building strong and persuasive documents and presentations. Students continue to practice the process of legal writing as they research, analyze, organize, write, and revise litigation-related documents. The primary context for the work done in ELA II involves writing briefs to a specific court. Students will also give oral arguments and presentations in class. Additionally, students will begin to learn about court and ethical rules related to brief writing and client representation.

Introduction to Legal Research

This one credit hour course builds on the legal research foundation acquired in ELA I. Students will gain greater familiarity with the legal system and legal information sources so that they have the tools to design efficient research strategies that allow them to find, evaluate, and use sources of legal information in order to resolve specific legal issues.


First- year students also may take an optional elective during the spring semester.