Not a Crash Course: January Term Classes Foster Interest in Specialized Topics

Faculty-Led Explorations Often Incorporate Top Legal Practitioners
A class meets around a table

Professor emeritus Lillian BeVier and U.S. Judge Amul Thapar (pictured in 2015) are leading a January term course this month.

January 11, 2017

What can be learned about the law in a week?

During this year's January term, University of Virginia School of Law students will find out how to handle sophisticated scientific evidence in the courtroom, delve into the complexities of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's mind, and explore the basics of persuasion from a few of its masters, including UVA Law alum Dean Strang of "Making a Murderer" fame.

The three offerings are among 21 current J-term courses — short courses that typically meet for five consecutive sessions in January.

Unlike "crash courses," January term classes foster interest in topics students might find useful as they build their careers. The faculty-led explorations often incorporate top legal practitioners and timely subject matter.

While some classes have already begun, most will be offered Jan. 16-20.

Forensics Litigation

"Litigating scientific evidence in the courtroom is not like it appears on TV shows like CSI — it is challenging and requires some specialized skills," says Professor Brandon Garrett in the course description for Forensics Litigation, which he's teaching with forensics expert Kate Philpott, a forensics legal consultant and 2006 graduate of the Law School.

Garrett is the Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law at UVA and an expert on scientific evidence.

Philpott was previously the forensic staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. She has a master's degree in forensic science.

The class will be a practicum in the fine points of trial advocacy as it relates to presenting scientific evidence. Lectures will culminate in an eight-hour day of court simulations that will feature a mock trial. The scenario will be heard before an actual sitting judge, Stephanie E. Merritt, chief judge of the New Kent General District Court.

In addition to current law students, the course will be attended by about 10 experienced practicing criminal lawyers.

Judicial Philosophy in Theory and Practice: Justice Scalia and His Critics

Other J-term courses this year are not new per se, but take a new approach.

With last year's death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a former UVA Law professor, two instructors decided to offer a class that previously focused broadly on jurisprudence and refine it to look specifically at Scalia's legacy.

Federal Judge Amul Thapar, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Lillian BeVier, a constitutional law expert and the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, will teach Philosophy in Theory and Practice: Justice Scalia and His Critics.

The class introduces students to the art of judging by focusing on Scalia’s scholarly writings, opinions and arguments addressed to his critics.

"The course will attempt to explore all sides of the debate about Justice Scalia's many years on the court," according to the course description.


Persuasion is another J-term course that adds a new element this year. The course will be co-taught by Wisconsin-based trial attorney Dean Strang, who appeared in the popular documentary series "Making a Murderer." Strang is a 1985 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.

He joins professors Robert Sayler and Molly Bishop Shadel, who teach oral advocacy and have co-authored the book "Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion," on which they've based a blog.

The class is billed as "a quick but intensive training course in effective verbal communications."

Other new J-term courses this year include:

  • Coercion: Taught by professors Kimberly Ferzan and Deborah Hellman, the class will explore the concept of coercion, and its importance to contract law, criminal law and constitutional law.
  • Research Ethics and Regulation: This course, led by Professor Lois Shepherd, covers topics in the ethics and law of human subject research, including the regulatory framework for protection of human subjects, requirements of informed consent and questions of access to experimental therapies.
  • Roman Law of Family and Status: Professor Michael Doran will guide students through Roman legal theories of marriage, divorce, parental authority, filial duty, citizenship and slavery.

The complete list of J-term courses is as follows:

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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