Civil Litigation

A lot of students come to law school aspiring to be trial lawyers, or litigators in modern parlance. This could come from the spate of lawyer shows on TV, a love of forensic oratory, a keen satisfaction in persuading others to your view or something else. But whatever the source, the interest is there.


  • Administrative Law
  • Advanced Litigation
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Civil Rights Actions
  • Complex Litigation
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Federal Courts and the Federal System
  • Jurisdiction
  • Pretrial Advocacy
  • Trial Advocacy

Course descriptions

What is the best way to prepare for being a civil litigator? There is a tendency to believe that trial practice-oriented courses like Trial Advocacy and Advanced Litigation are the most important courses. They are important, of course, but too many students overlook other courses that are equally important, and maybe more so. More than 95 percent of civil cases filed do not go to trial. Thus, you need to focus considerable attention on courses that will help you position yourself to help your client outside the trial.

It is critically important, for example, that you have a good grounding in a variety of doctrinal courses. The cases you litigate will always be grounded in one or more areas of substantive law. While you cannot study every area of law that you are likely to encounter in practice, the more doctrinal areas you are familiar with, the better. And that broad familiarity with law will also make it easier for you to master new areas of law that come up in your practice.

An essential course for anyone who expects to set foot in a courtroom is Jurisdiction, which covers the courts' power over personal controversies. No student who expects to do any litigation should fail to take this course. The subject is complex, interesting and critically important.

Pretrial Advocacy gives you a solid grounding in the procedures that lead up to the trial. It could be termed "Civil Procedure in Practice." For most cases, the pretrial stage is where the case's outcome is determined - and that includes cases that go to trial.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is another course that every potential litigator ought to take. Mediation and arbitration are increasingly important ways of resolving disputes, including disputes that start out in litigation.

An often overlooked course that litigators ought to take is Administrative Law. Indeed, every aspiring lawyer ought to take this course. It can pretty much be guaranteed that no matter what you do in practice, you will encounter administrative agencies, and it is important that you understand how they work.

Conflicts of Laws is also easy to overlook. It helps you sort out which state's laws apply in multi-state disputes. Among other things, if you don't know how the various states resolve their conflicts issues, you could wind up suing in a state that is not favorable for your client. Thus, you should be thinking of conflicts issues even before you file suit; and if your opponent fails to consider those issues, you could definitely find that you have a leg up.

Complex Litigation is something that may come up in any litigation practice, but some firms specialize in it. Class actions, in particular, are almost a separate species of litigation, so someone who understands ordinary litigation still has a way to go to master class actions.

Everyone who litigates should have taken Federal Courts and the Federal System. The course, which might be described as advanced subject matter jurisdiction, is full of things that will astonish you, and if you don't know that they are there, they could be traps for you. Political science junkies should also like this course. The two major themes of the course are separation of powers and federalism - the role of federal courts vis-a-vis the other branches of government and vis-a-vis the state courts.

Civil Rights Actions is the other half of Federal Courts. It is somewhat more specialized, dealing with habeas corpus, civil rights litigation and state sovereign immunity, among other things. But these are also things that could come up in any practice, and they are sufficiently complex that it behooves you to get some help in understanding them.

This is just a start on identifying useful courses for the civil litigator. KU's curriculum is rich in litigation-related courses. So prepare yourself wisely, and you can have an exciting and successful career as a litigator.

Advocacy Skills Certificate

Effective advocacy requires a solid grounding in all aspects of litigation — planning the lawsuit, pretrial practices and procedures, trial advocacy, and post-trial matters — and in alternative forms of dispute resolution. The Advocacy Skills Certificate provides the means for students to develop basic knowledge and skills in effective advocacy.

Hands-On Learning Opportunities

Students have a number of opportunities to work with live clients in clinics and field placements that give them litigation training in a real-world setting.

In the Legal Aid Clinic students represent indigent citizens of Douglas County. They serve as public defenders in municipal and juvenile courts and represent clients in domestic relations, landlord-tenant, and other civil actions.

In the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies, students represent state and federal prisoners in appellate and post-conviction litigation.

In the Criminal Prosecution Field Placement Program students serve as prosecutors in various Kansas state district attorneys offices. Under the supervision of a local prosecutor they participate in virtually all phases of the criminal process.

In the Judicial Field Placement Program students see the court from the bench side as they serve as law clerks to federal and state trial judges.

In the Elder Law Field Placement Program students assist supervising attorneys with pre-trial work and with trial and hear preparations.

Students may participate in any of a number of moot court programs with competitions on campus, regionally and nationally, including the National Moot Court Competition, the Jessup International Moot Court, the National Environmental Moot Court, and the National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court. They may test out their interviewing skills in the ABA Client Counseling Competition and their trial skills in the American Trial Lawyers Association Mock Trial Competition. KU law students have had much success in these competitions.



Laura Hines
Director, Shook, Hardy & Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy
Centennial Teaching Professor