Academic Degree Requirements

The Law School offers several law programs and a number of joint degree programs. Please consult the website at http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/registrar for specific details.

Determination of Credit Hours

One credit hour at Cornell Law School consists of 55 minutes of classroom or direct faculty instruction, two hours of out-of- class student work per week for 13 weeks, and the time spent preparing for and taking a final examination. Cornell Law requires an equivalent amount of work for other academic activities not assessed by final examination, including seminars, simulation courses, field placement, clinical, co-curricular, and other academic work. American Bar Association (ABA) Standard 310 and Interpretation 310-2. Accordingly, the Law School’s academic year consists of 2, 13-week semesters followed by a 2-week examination period.

The Law School ensures compliance with the ABA’s credit-hour guidelines through the curricular review undertaken for all courses by the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, through the supervision of clinics by the Director of Clinical, Advocacy and Skills Programs, and through the oversight of field placements by the Externship Director.  The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs assesses how many credits are appropriate for the hours of instruction and out-of-class workload based on the course description and syllabus faculty submit. 

Each degree program has specific credit and course requirements, which are summarized below. The dean and the faculty have primary responsibility and authority for setting degree requirements; planning, implementing, and administering the program of legal education, including curriculum; and determining methods of instruction and evaluation. ABA Standard 201. Accordingly, the dean and the faculty reserve the right to select the appropriate method of delivering instruction, whether in-person or online, and to make necessary changes as pedagogical or public health concerns warrant.

Juris Doctor Program

Candidates for the degree of Doctor of Law (J.D.) must satisfactorily complete seventy-eight (78) weeks of law study, eighty- four (84) semester credit hours, and 6 full semesters. The program and course of study must be completed no earlier than 24 months and no later than 60 months after commencement of all law study.

First Year Program

Required first year courses are the following:

Fall Credit HoursSpring Credit Hours
Civil Procedure 3 Constitutional Law 4 Contracts 4 Torts 3 Lawyering 2Civil Procedure 3 Criminal Law 3 Elective 3 or 4 Property 4 Lawyering 2

In the first semester, all students are assigned to a small section in Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, or Torts. In addition, each student is assigned to a small section of Lawyering. The Law School’s Lawyering Program, a required full year course for first-year students, introduces the fundamentals of legal research, analysis, and writing. Full-time legal research and writing faculty provide instruction. The full-year curriculum guides students through a series of integrated research and writing assignments that address case and statutory analysis, objective and persuasive writing techniques, and research skills necessary for the preparation of legal memoranda and briefs. The spring semester culminates with a moot court exercise that introduces students to the techniques of oral advocacy in a courtroom setting. Clinical Professor Joel Atlas (256B Hughes Hall, 1-607-255-1348, jba23@cornell.edu) is the Director of the Lawyering Program.

Upper Class Courses

After the first year, the curriculum remains structured but students enjoy a wide range of course choices. The ABA and the NY Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) require law students to take mainly regularly scheduled law school courses. Of the required 84 credits, students may not take more than 20 credits outside of such regular courses. These 20 credits include full-term externships, part time externships, directed reading, supervised writing, supervised teaching (including Lawyering Honors Fellows), supervised experiential learning, courses taught in other university divisions, and clinics taught by instructors whose primary professional employment is not within the Law School. The ABA and NY BOLE impose one other requirement on reaching the required 84 credits: all courses taught outside a law-school curriculum (including those in other university divisions) cannot exceed 13 credits. For students particularly interested in doing a full-term externship, advance planning will be more critical to avoid disappointment. See ABA Standard 311(a) and Interpretation 311-1.

A student is permitted to take a maximum of thirteen credits from courses in other university divisions. There are also per course limits and per semester limits for such courses as directed readings and supervised writings. For example, only one three-credit supervised writing course will be allowed per semester. All externships and directed reading, supervised writing, supervised teaching, and supervised experiential learning are graded S/U. (Note that students also have the ability to take two graded upper class courses S/U if that option is made available by the course instructor). Students must obtain advance permission to have directed readings, supervising writing, supervised teaching, and courses taught in other university division applied toward the Law School’s degree credit requirements by submitting the appropriate forms available on the Forms and Requests page of the Registrar’s website: https://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/registrar/forms.cfm.

Per ABA requirements, a Law School may not permit a student to be enrolled at any time in coursework that would exceed 20 percent of the total coursework required by that school for graduation. Therefore, the Dean of Students will not allow students in the J.D. program to take more than 17 credits in any one semester. Students in the J.D./LL.M. program will be allowed to take a maximum of 21 credits per semester. The Registrar will provide similar maximum semester credit information for those in various joint degree programs in separate registration documents. See ABA Standard 311(c).

Students must be registered for a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester. To request permission to register for fewer than this, a student must petition the Dean of Students using the Exception to Hours Form available on the Forms and Requests page of the Registrar’s website: https://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/registrar/forms.cfm. To be considered full-time in the Law School, a student must enroll in at least 10 credit hours each semester, 9 of which must be in the Law School. The Law School does not have a part-time program.

Particular upper class courses are usually not required, but prior to graduation, a student must complete the writing requirement, one or more experiential learning course(s) totaling at least 6 credit hours, and a course of at least 2 credits in professional responsibility. Students may not satisfy more than one of these requirements with a single course. See ABA Standard 303(a) and Interpretation 303(1).

Writing Requirement

The upper class writing requirement for the J.D. degree is met by satisfactorily completing one colloquium, seminar or problem course of at least 3 credits. The course cannot be taken S/U. Courses satisfying the requirement are identified each semester at https://support.law.cornell.edu/students/forms/CurrRecommendations_and_DegreeRequirements.pdf.

Problem courses explore actual or simulated problems in a field of law. Students prepare memoranda of law, legal instruments, legislative drafts, and similar documents. Seminars entail extensive reading and reflection in a field of law. Students prepare one or more substantial research papers in article, comment, or note form. See ABA Standard 303(a) (2).

A three-hour problem course or seminar that satisfies the writing requirement requires the student to produce high quality legal writing demonstrating substantial effort. Although the form, nature, and length of the written work may vary across courses, the preparation of this written work will involve extensive faculty supervision, criticism, review, and, when appropriate, rewriting. Attention is given to structure, rhetoric, and English composition as well as legal analysis and expression.

Work that has been done in another context, including a summer job or one of the Law School’s student journals, may not be used to satisfy the writing requirement unless the student submits a paper that represents a substantial further development of work done in one of those contexts with the instructor’s informed approval. A student seeking to submit or extend a colloquium, seminar, or problem course paper to a journal must fully disclose the paper’s origin to the journal, which may decide whether to accept it.

Experiential Learning Requirement

J.D. students must complete one or more experiential course(s) totaling at least 6 credit hours. See ABA Standard 303(a) (3). Courses satisfying the requirement are identified each semester at https://support.law.cornell.edu/students/forms/CurrRecommendations_and_DegreeRequirements.pdf.

Professional Responsibility Requirement

All law students must satisfactorily complete an upper class course in professional responsibility of at least two credits before graduation. Every year, the school offers several different classes which satisfy this requirement. Courses satisfying the requirement are identified each semester at https://support.law.cornell.edu/students/forms/CurrRecommendations_and_DegreeRequirements.pdf See ABA Standard 303(a) (1).

Second Year Recommended Foundational Courses

Although no particular course is required in the upper class years, the faculty strongly recommend that students take four foundational courses during the second year: Administrative Law, Business Organizations, Evidence, and Federal Income Taxation. Course enrollment may need to be limited by availability of classroom capacity or by teacher preference.

The faculty further recommend that students take a course in the following area(s) before they graduate. Note that enrollment in particular courses may need to be limited by availability of classroom capacity or by teacher preference.

Law, Inequity, and Structural Exclusion. The faculty believe that a well-rounded legal education should include an understanding of how law can act not only as an instrument for furthering particular client goals or as a basis for rights promotion but also as a mechanism for inequity and structural exclusion. Upper-level courses relevant to this recommendation are identified each semester at https://link….

Concentration Options

Third-year students may concentrate in a particular field of law. To encourage such focus, the school grants certificates to students who complete the requirements of one of seven concentrations: advocacy; business law and regulation; conflict resolution; general practice; law, inequality, and structural exclusion; public law, and technology and law. A student may receive recognition for fulfilling only one concentration. Each concentration program requires the completion, before graduation, of 14 credit hours, including a writing course in the designated area. Consult the Law School Registrar’s staff (160 Myron Taylor Hall) for details or the website: https://support.law.cornell.edu/students/forms/Concentration_Option.pdf

International Legal Affairs Specialization Option

J.D. students may elect to specialize in International Legal Affairs. Ordinarily, students make this election at the beginning of their second year, although they may join the program later provided it is still possible to satisfy the requirements of the specialization before graduation. The Law School offers from thirty to forty courses in international law, comparative law, international economic law, and related fields. To receive the J.D. degree with a specialization in International Legal Affairs, candidates must satisfactorily complete eighty-nine credit hours of study, which must include required courses of conflict of laws and public international law, as well as a specifically designated comparative law course that is general in scope and includes instruction in civil law systems (several options may be available). For more information, please contact International Programs (L53 Hughes Hall, 1-607-255-2434, international.law@cornell.edu).

Dual and Joint Degree Programs

The Law School offers J.D. students several dual and joint degree options within the law school, with partner institutions around the world, and with other Cornell University graduate divisions.

International Joint and Dual Degree Programs

Students interested in applying to any of the international joint or dual degree programs outlined in this section should contact International Programs (L53 Hughes Hall, 1-607-255-2434, international.law@cornell.edu) for additional information.

Three-Year J.D./LL.M. Program in International and Comparative Law

Cornell Law School offers certain J.D. students the opportunity to receive both the J.D. degree and an LL.M. (Master of Laws) in International and Comparative Law in three years. The requirements for the program include completing an additional 20 credit hours of study in international, comparative and foreign law subjects, in addition to the credits required for the J.D. degree. The twenty credits must include required courses of conflict of laws and public international law, as well as a specifically designated comparative law course that is general in scope and includes instruction in civil law systems (several options may be available). The degree requirements also include participation in the Paris Summer Institute for at least 4 credits, but this requirement is waived for students in the class of 2021 and 2022. In no event may a student receive a total of more than 12 credits toward the required 20 credits from summer/winter intersession courses, including credits earned from the Paris Summer Institute. Students in the program must maintain an overall grade point average of at least 3.0 to graduate with the joint degree. Students may apply for the program in their initial application to the Law School or in the spring semester of their first year.

Four-Year J.D./ French Master en Droit Degree Program

The Law School offers a four-year J.D./Master en Droit dual degree program with the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. The J.D./Master en Droit requires fluency in French and English. The program is small and extremely selective. For participants admitted by Cornell with Paris I concurrence, it involves legal studies for two years at Cornell and two years at Paris I. Students may apply to the program in their initial application to the Law School or, if spaces are available, following matriculation. Participants admitted by Paris I with Cornell concurrence have the Baccalaurete degree or a first-level Master degree before arriving at Cornell. They must complete a minimum of 64 credits at Cornell over two years and return to Paris I for their final year of study. Following completion of studies in Paris the participants receive both the J.D. degree from Cornell University, and a Master degree (at the M1 and/or M2 level) from the Université Paris I. Students must complete the requirements for a Paris I Master degree before they can receive their Cornell J.D. and be certified to take the bar exam of a U.S. state. In some cases, the timing of the dual degree program may require students to receive their J.D. degree in August and sit for a U.S. bar exam in February rather than July.

Three-Year J.D./ LL.M. Program with Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne

Students who are admitted by Cornell into the J.D./Master en Droit dual degree program may, if spaces are available, apply to transfer into the three-year J.D./LL.M. in French, European, and International Business Law dual degree program with the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Students who are interested in transferring into this program should discuss their interest with International Programs (L53 Hughes Hall, 1-607-255-2434, international.law@cornell.edu) by the start of their second year at Cornell. Requests to transfer into the program also require approval by the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. The program requires complete fluency in French and English. It involves legal studies for two years at Cornell and one year at Paris I. Following completion of studies in Paris the participants receive both the J.D. degree from Cornell University and the LL.M. degree in French, European, and International Business Law from the Université Paris I.

Three-Year J.D./ LL.M. Program with Humboldt University of Berlin

The Law School offers a unique three-year J.D./ European and Comparative Law LL.M. dual degree program with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The J.D./M.LL.P. requires fluency in German and English. Students may apply for the program in their initial application to the Law School or, if spaces are available, following matriculation. The J.D./M.LL.P. program involves legal studies for two years at Cornell followed by one year at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Following completion of studies in Berlin, the participants receive both the J.D. from Cornell University and LL.M. in European and Comparative Law Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. This program is small and extremely selective. Please Note: This program will be on hiatus for the 2021-22 Academic Year.

Three-Year J.D./LL.M. Program with the University of Heidelberg

The Law School offers a three-year J.D./LL.M. dual degree program with the University Heidelberg. The J.D./LL.M. requires complete fluency in German and English. Students may apply for the program in their initial application to the Law School or, if spaces are available, following matriculation. The J.D./LL.M. program involves legal studies for two years at Cornell followed by one year at the University of Heidelberg. Following completion of studies in there, the participants receive both the J.D. from Cornell University and the LL.M. from the University of Heidelberg.  The program is small and extremely selective. Please Note: This program will be on hiatus for the 2021-22 Academic Year.

Three-Year J.D./LL.B. Program with Jindal Global Law School

The Law School offers a three-year J.D./LL.B. or J.D./B.A.-LL.B. advanced standing program with Jindal Global Law School. Participants, who are nominated by Jindal Global Law School and admitted by Cornell, complete at least two years of advanced study at Jindal Global Law School before arriving at Cornell. They must complete a minimum of 64 credits at Cornell over two years. Following completion of studies at Cornell, the participants receive a J.D. from Cornell University, in addition to a B.A./LL.B. or LL.B. degree from Jindal Global Law School.

Joint Degree Programs with Other Cornell University Graduate Divisions

The Law School offers the following joint degree programs with other Cornell University graduate divisions:

J.D./M.B.A. (4 year)Master of Business Administration
J.D./M.B.A. (3 year)Master of Business Administration
J.D./M.I.L.R.Master of Industrial and Labor Relations
J.D./M.P.A.Master of Public Administration
J.D./Ph.D.Doctor of Philosophy in Developmental Psychology
J.D./Ph.D. or M.A.Doctor of Philosophy in other fields of the Cornell Graduate School

Admission to these joint degree programs is obtained by applying directly to the other schools. Contact the admissions office in the other school as soon as interest arises as deadlines and procedures vary. In general, after a student completes their first year of Law School, the second year is completed entirely in the other unit, but some variations on this pattern have been permitted in individual cases. Admissions criteria in other units may be quite different than the Law School’s criteria, so make no assumptions about admissibility. Once a student has been admitted to the other program, it is their responsibility to contact the Registrar’s Office, (160 Myron Taylor Hall, 1-607-255-7190, law.registrar@cornell.edu.

J.D./M.B.A. (4 year)

Candidates for the J.D./M.B.A. (4 year) must apply to, and be accepted by, both schools. Students will spend their first year entirely in one school and their second year entire in the other school. During the third and fourth year they will take a mix of courses from the Law School and Johnson to meet the degree requirements of both programs.

Students must satisfactorily complete 84 credit hours of Law School credit. 72 of the 84 credits for the law degree must be earned in the Law School. Students may take up to 12 credits of courses related to legal training taught by members of the university faculty outside of the Law School, subject in each case to the approval of the Law School’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. To receive credit for such courses they must fill out and submit the Law Credit for Non-law Courses form available from the Registrar’s office (https://community.lawschool.cornell.edu/academics/forms/).

During six of the eight terms, they must register for at least 9 credits in the Law School (which may include courses cross-listed between Johnson and the Law School). A total of 117 credits is required for the receipt of both degrees.

J.D./M.B.A. (3 year)

Candidates for the J.D./M.B.A. (3-year) will spend their entire first year at the Law School, totaling 32 credits. In total, students must take 20 credits of foundational courses and 25 credits of elective courses at Johnson and a minimum of 9 credits per semester and a total of 72 credits of the 84 credits for the law degree earned in the Law School. Students may take up to 12 credits of courses related to legal training taught by members of the university faculty outside of the Law School, subject in each case to the approval of the Law School’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. To receive credit for such courses they must fill out and submit the Law Credit for Non-law Courses form available from the Registrar’s office (https://community.lawschool.cornell.edu/academics/forms/).

The summer after the first year and the entire second year are spent primarily in Johnson. During the second year, students must also take a minimum of 9 credits of Law School coursework each semester (which may include courses cross-listed between Johnson and the Law School). Students are expected to take a total of 18 credits for the summer and 30 credits for the second year. The third year is spent mainly in the Law School. Students take a minimum of 9 Law School credits per semester. They should take one course in Johnson each semester (which may be a cross-listed course). Students should expect to take a total of up to 30 credits or more for the third year.

As part of the Law School curriculum, students are required to take Business Organizations during the fall or spring semester of the second year. Students must also take Federal Income Taxation in the Law School, which can be during the second or third year.

General LL.M. Program

Candidates for the General Master of Laws degree must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 20 credits of work over two semesters of full-time study. All LL.M. students are required to enroll in the Introduction to the American Legal System course. Beyond this one required course, students may choose courses from the Law School’s extensive curriculum, including most first-year and upper-level courses or take courses in other divisions of the university with approval from the Assistant Dean for Graduate Legal Studies.

LL.M. students may take no more than six (6) credits outside of regularly scheduled law school classes without approval from the Assistant Dean. These six credits include externships, directed readings, supervised writings, and courses taught in other university divisions. Students may register for up to 15 credits and no less than 10 credits per semester or seek approval from the Assistant Dean for Graduate Legal Studies.

Writing Requirement

LL.M. students must satisfactorily complete one 3 credit seminar with a substantial writing component that satisfies the writing requirement or take Principles of American Legal Writing.  The course cannot be taken S/U. Courses that fulfill the writing requirement can be found here: https://support.law.cornell.edu/Students/students/CourseDescriptions/CoursesByCategory.cfm.

Additional New York Requirements

Those planning to sit for the New York Bar exam must complete 24 credits of classroom coursework, which must include a professional responsibility course, a legal research course, and foundational subjects covered by the New York Bar Exam. Courses satisfying NY Bar requirements can be found at http://support.law.cornell.edu/students/forms/NYSBarExam_LLMRequirements.pdf.

Tech LL.M. Program

Candidates for the Master of Laws degree in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (Tech LL.M.) must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 32 credits of work over two semesters.

The first part of the curriculum is comprised of foundational law courses. Students with a demonstrated strength in other subject areas may substitute courses, subject to approval of the Director of the Tech LL.M. program, as well as scheduling constraints and faculty approval.

The second part is made up of courses from other parts of Cornell University.  In addition, students will select elective courses in the spring. 

The third part of the curriculum integrates LL.M., technology, and business students on project teams, tasked with developing new products and capitalizing on innovation opportunities for startups and larger companies. Tech LL.M. students will also provide legal support to team projects, as well as to other projects by faculty, staff, and students at Cornell Tech, in each case supervised by an experienced practitioner or practitioners.

M.S.L.S. Program

Candidates for the Master of Science in Legal Studies (M.S.L.S.) degree must satisfactorily complete 30 credits of work over 5 terms of part-time study. All M.S.L.S. students are required to enroll in:

  • 15 foundational online courses totaling 22 credits,
  • 1 on-campus intensive programs totaling 1.5 credits
  • 3 elective courses totaling 4 credits
  • Complete a capstone project totaling 2.5 credits (which includes another on-campus visit)

M.S.L.S. students are not permitted to enroll in any residential or online courses at Cornell Law School or any other unit of Cornell University beyond what is offered for the M.S.L.S program.

General Master of Science in Legal Studies Grading Policy

M.S.L.S. candidates are graded on the scale of A to F.  In addition, the courses within the first campus intensive program will be graded as Satisfactory (S) and Unsatisfactory (U).  S is appropriate for students who would have received a grade in the range of A to C-, and U is appropriate for students who would have received a D+ or lower grade. There is no faculty policy regulating the proportion of A to F, S, and U grades that faculty may give to M.S.L.S. students.

General M.S.L.S. Academic Deficiency

Depending on the grade scale for the course, an M.S.L.S. student who receives a U or grade of D+ or below after completion of any course within the program will be placed on informal probation, and must meet with the Assistant Dean of External Education prior to continued enrollment. An M.S.L.S. student will be dropped for scholastic deficiency if in the judgment of the faculty the student’s work at any time is markedly unsatisfactory. Work may be considered markedly unsatisfactory if, for example, the merit point ratio for work after completion of at least 6 credits is lower than D+ or two or more U grades are received.

J.S.D Program

The minimum residency for the Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.) degree is two semesters, although the program usually requires four to six semesters to complete. Additional degree program expectations are outlined in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Transfer Programs

Transferring to J.D. Program from an ABA – Approved Law School

Students transferring into Cornell Law School from another ABA-approved law school may receive up to 32 credit hours toward the 84 credit hours required for a J.D. degree. The amount of credit is determined by the Registrar upon enrollment after reviewing the particular courses taken by the transfer student, and will not be re-assessed at a later time. More information about the transfer process can be found at http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/admissions/FAQ/admission_and_preparation.cfm.

Transferring to J.D. Program from Cornell Law School’s General LL.M. Program

Candidates for the LL.M. degree who wish to transfer to the J.D. program must submit a transfer application no later than April 1. The transfer procedures and requirements will, in general be the same as those applied to J.D. students at other law schools who seek to transfer into the Cornell J.D. program (including the requirement of an acceptable admissions test). However, at least one letter of recommendation should be from a Cornell Law faculty member who has taught the student. Only LLM students who have elected to be graded on the JD scale and curve will be considered for transfer to the JD class. Cornell LL.M. students who are accepted into the J.D. program as transfers are eligible to receive up to 24 credits obtained in pursuit of the LL.M. degree toward the J.D. degree requirements, and must complete an additional four semesters at Cornell enrolled in J.D. courses. Cornell LL.M. students who transfer into the J.D. program are ineligible to receive the pending LL.M. degree.

Special Student Status

Students enrolled in any Cornell Graduate Legal Studies program who wish to continue taking courses during the next academic year after completing current degree requirements must apply to the Assistant Dean for Graduate Legal Studies by April 1 at glsadmissions@cornell.edu. Email requests should include a brief statement of plans for the next academic year, including reasons for continuing with coursework; financial support for continued study; and a current Cornell Law School transcript.

Policy on Student Complaints Relating to ABA Program of Legal Education Standards

The Cornell Law School invites students to share any concerns they might have about the Law School’s program of legal education as it relates to matters that directly connect to ABA Standards. Students having such a concern should submit the concern, in writing, to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. The student’s written complaint should identify the ABA accreditation standard that is at issue and must be signed by the student. The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs will work with the appropriate administrator to investigate the issue and if possible, to address the concern. The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, as appropriate, shall keep a record of all such complaints and of follow-up action taken for eight years. The student who filed the complaint will be provided with a written update on the response within 30 days of receipt of the complaint.