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What is law?
Law is an organized system of rules and regulations that govern society, including elected officials. The U.S. operates under a common law system where judicial decisions are binding and align with legal precedents.Footnote 1 The law is expansive with many different fields. It is used to resolve contract disputes, property disputes, and other private conflicts. In the business world, organizations rely on legal experts to guide them through complex legal processes, from taxation to mergers. And criminal law holds individuals and organizations accountable for engaging in crimes, while serving justice to those who have been victimized.
Becoming an expert in any one field of law takes time and commitment. But studying law can pay dividends. With knowledge of the law, individuals can ensure that their actions don't conflict with statutes and that their rights are upheld. An understanding of our legal framework also allows us to anticipate potential risks in times of crisis.
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Online law class curriculum
Courses in law are designed to provide an understanding of legal theory and practice. Topics that may be covered in a law course include:Footnote 2
Constitutional law: explores constitutional principles and the organization of the federal government, its powers, and the relationship between the states and the federal government. It also covers topics such as civil rights and civil liberties.
Contracts: covers the formation and enforcement of contracts, including contract offer and acceptance, consideration, contract defenses, remedies for breach of contract, and third-party beneficiaries.
Property law: examines the legal principles governing property ownership and possession, including real and personal property. It also covers issues such as transfer of title and adverse possession.
Criminal law: covers the elements of criminal offenses and defenses to criminal prosecutions. It also looks at bail, search and seizure, interrogation and confession, sentencing, appeals, and habeas corpus.
Legal research and writing: examines the basics of legal research and writing, including citation of authorities, finding sources of law, writing briefs, drafting contracts and pleadings, and preparing other legal documents.
Professional responsibility: explores ethical principles for attorneys, such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, attorney-client privilege, legal fees, solicitation of clients, advertising, discipline proceedings, trust accounting rules, and other professional regulations.
Learners may study law more generally or hone in on a specific field that aligns with their interests or the jobs in law that they hope to pursue. Examples of different fields include environmental law, family law, human rights law, corporate law, employment law, and more.
If you’re looking to build legal knowledge, enrolling in an online law course is one way you can begin to learn the fundamentals of the field. Explore the wide range of learning opportunities in different subjects offered through edX, that range from specialized courses to full bachelor’s degree programs and master’s degree programs.
Studying law may prepare you for a number of careers, including roles as a:
Lawyer: These professionals practice law in private practice or the government. They're responsible for providing legal advice and representing their clients in court. A lawyer’s job often includes researching case law, giving counsel, drafting documents, and arguing cases in court.
Judge: These professionals preside over cases in court, review evidence and testimony, listen to arguments from both sides, and make a decision based on the law.Footnote 3
Law clerk: These legal professionals are responsible for providing research and writing assistance to lawyers. They conduct legal research, draft legal documents, and file motions.
Jury consultant: These legal professionals assist attorneys by helping them choose the best jurors for their cases. They analyze data from past cases and utilize focus groups to determine which jurors are likely sympathetic to the client's case.
Legal mediator: These legal professionals assist parties in resolving disputes without going to court. They work with both parties to come up with a resolution that is satisfactory to both sides.
Prosecutor: These professionals function as attorneys. They are employed by the government to represent the state in criminal cases. They investigate crimes and prosecute those charged with committing them.
To pursue legal careers, it is important to understand the specific requirements that must be met to practice. For example, the training it takes to become a lawyer differs from what you’ll need to work as a paralegal or legal secretary.Footnote 4 Before beginning any specific learning path, it is important to research what those requirements are.