The MSL semesters are divided into 2 eight week sessions: thus, the Fall semester is divided into Fall 1 and Fall 2. Each session has a seven week term for regular classes that meet once or twice a week, and also a short one-week term, called the Power Week. Within each Power Week, there is a choice of three of four short courses.
All of the incoming full-time MSL students take the same set of classes for the first seven weeks (Fall 1). The first series of classes typically includes Business Formation and Structure; Research in Law, Business & Technology; Legal and Regulatory Process; Contract Law and Design; and Intellectual Property Fundamentals. Generally speaking to finish the program in one year, a full-time student needs to take approximately 4-5 classes per each seven week session and one or two classes during each Power Week. Here’s what we took in Fall 1:
As you can see, some days were short, but other days were longer with gaps in the schedule. This variety really made the schedule manageable. The 4-5 hour gap some days made getting the assigned reading done easier, especially if you just bunker down in the library.
Speaking of reading, the biggest “welcome to law school” for me was the amount of reading that was expected of all students: 150-200 pages of reading before each class! It was expected that reading was done before class, in order for students to have in depth discussions about the topic at hand. Some professors liked to “cold call” in class to make sure everyone had indeed done the reading. Take a moment to watch this clip from The Paper Chase. It is an extreme example, but, nonetheless, a situation a new law student does not want to be in!
Group projects play a big role in the MSL program and are integrated into all of the classes. During Fall 1, some weeks got chaotic when there were multiple group projects going on at the same time. Even though we were busy scheduling and holding meetings with group members to finish projects, we still had to be prepared to participate in regular class work. Due to the compressed nature of the MSL terms, we are always expected to attend the scheduled lectures. Even when a class gets canceled, we are required to attend a makeup class to allow for enough time for all the material to be covered.
Not everything is all reading and legal cases though; there are glimmers of hope! An unwritten code at Northwestern Law is the “sacred hour” from 12 to 1. Generally speaking, the student body does not have classes scheduled during the sacred hour, and there are usually speakers scheduled somewhere on campus at some point during the week. Being the poor university students that we are, we flock to these talks not only because they are interesting, but because there is always catered food!
The speaker sessions vary across many fields of law, and allow MSL students to mingle with the JD and LLM students as well. Even professors of the classes give talks. For example, the MSL professor of IP Fundamentals gave a talk on “Why IP is Like Property and Property is Not What You Think.” It was a great discussion of Lochean Theory vs Utilitarianism in an ever-evolving space of intellectual property.
Many of these speakers are sponsored by one of the numerous Northwestern University clubs. For example, the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association conducts educational programs and social activities that have three goals: increasing the Asian American presence at Northwestern Law and in the wider legal community; promoting a deeper understanding of the political, economic, and historical roles of Asians in America; and establishing a national network of exchange among Asian Pacific America. Another group that works a lot with the MSL program is the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center Student Group, which focuses on transactional law and legal issues facing businesses, especially early-stage businesses. The group provides its members with the chance to learn about various areas of transactional law and entrepreneurship outside of the classroom, as well as valuable opportunities to network with transactional attorneys and entrepreneurs. The High Tech Law Society is yet another group that entices strong MSL participation. The purpose of HTLS is to increase awareness of the intersection of technology and the law, offer speakers and discussion events, and improve employment opportunities for Northwestern students. HTLS provides a discussion forum for high tech industry issues pertaining to law and investors.
A personal favorite that is a great escape and networking opportunity is the bar review. This is not the same type of bar review that you are thinking though. Some clubs will host gathering at local Chicago bars for law students to get out every Thursday. This is a great opportunity to meet up with MSL students and other JD students; it’s also an opportunity to find great places to visit in Chicago!
Everything aside, the MSL program is a close knit group of professionals who will also meet up outside of class. Don’t forget to give yourself down time and enjoy the city with your classmates! Also, don’t forget to invite the part time students from this and last year!