Legal studies is an undergraduate major in the College of Letters & Science. The program's mission is to provide a liberal education across traditional disciplines, focusing on the theory and operation of law and legal institutions. The courses in the legal studies major expose students to the many facets of law as a social phenomenon—its evolution, function, motivating ideas and effects. The major is not intended as preparation for law school because the emphasis is on exploring broadly defined questions about law from a variety of perspectives, rather than on training for the profession. The legal studies major is, however, suitable for pre-law students.

The curriculum is designed around the following five themes: Legal Institutions, Processes of Legal Order and Disorder, Law and Social Forces, Law and Culture, and Law and Theory.

Theme Group 1: Legal Institutions

Institutions are at the core of social life. They govern our interactions, distribute power and resources, and influence how we make sense of the world. Courses in this theme group focus on those institutions involved in the creation and application of law. They explore such questions as how legal institutions evolve; how legal institutions help determine the shape of law—in doctrine and in action—and how and whether, in turn, legal institutions can be shaped to create different social outcomes. Institutions are central to the studies of society and politics throughout the disciplines, and courses in the group include perspectives from history, anthropology, sociology, political science, and political theory.

Theme Group 2: Processes of Legal Order and Disorder

This theme examines the dynamics of order at the individual and societal level. In the course of this examination, students are made aware of the political and social biases that can underlie definitions of "order." This theme should also allow students to address how social and political biases relate to divisions of class, race and gender, and how the mechanisms of conflict resolution and order maintenance can be used to reinforce or challenge existing power structures.

Theme Group 3: Law and Social Forces

This theme group explores the intersection between law, social structures and social movements. Courses in this group address social inequality, generally in the U.S. context, grounded in ethno-racial, gender, and sexuality-based difference. At critical points, the struggle for equality has taken pointedly legal form, whether in the shape of campaigns for legislative change or recognition, or through the litigation of particular cases. Legal categories have informed social identities. Equally, changing social identities have pushed back on legal categories. Courses integrate broad social dynamics with the rise of organized social movements that use law as an arena in which to reassess social life and values.

Theme Group 4: Law and Culture

This theme group introduces students to legal thought, institutions, and practices beyond mainstream or contemporary legal systems, specifically modern Euro-American legal cultures. Courses in this theme group present either culturally based challenges to mainstream modern legal systems or legal systems that are culturally or historically distinct from them. The comparative study of distinct legal traditions and movements forces us to reexamine the cultural presuppositions embedded in modern legal systems, revealing both good reasons for defending mainstream Euro-American laws and arguments and models for changing or questioning prevailing systems. Courses examine historical developments in or affecting law, non-Western legal thought or traditions, and the effect of cultural institutions such as religion, literature, or media on law.

Theme Group 5: Law and Theory

Many theoretical and philosophical questions are articulated as propositions about law: its nature, sources, contents, and relations to other aspects of social life. While only some philosophers or social, political or legal theorists work specifically in the area of "legal theory," almost literally all work in any of these areas contributes to our understanding of the sources and nature of law, legal institutions and legal practices, and for many if not most theorists explicit discussions of law are central elements of their work. Courses in this theme group focus on the ways in which "law" is treated as a working concept or as a subject of study in theoretical works, and conversely on how understandings drawn from theoretical writings inform our own understanding of law in all its dimensions.

Requirements to declare tHE MAJOR

Those wishing to declare the major should schedule an appointment with the legal studies advisor.

To declare the legal studies major, students must complete three (3) prerequisite courses with grades of C or better. Students may be exempt from COMM-A by their English Placement score and from QR-A by their Math Placement score. 

The three prerequisite courses consist of:

  • a Communication A course;
  • a Quantitative Reasoning A course; and
  • one "Gateway Course" chosen from the list below.


Select one of the following:3-4
Criminal Justice in America
Law, Politics and Society

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of science degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.


Mathematics Two (2) 3+ credits of intermediate/advanced level MATH, COMP SCI, STAT
Limit one each: COMP SCI, STAT
Foreign Language Complete the third unit of a foreign language
Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include 6 credits in biological science; and must include 6 credits in physical science
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 86th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison


Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.  Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non-L&S-degree-seeking candidates:  

  • Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
  • Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
  • Music (Bachelor of Music)
  • Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)

Requirements for the Major

11 total courses in the following categories:2

Theme:  legal institutions

Two courses required from:

Theme Group 1: Legal Institutions
GEN BUS 301 Business Law3
GEN BUS 302 Business Organizations and Negotiable Instruments3
ELPA 502 Workshop in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (*Law and Public Educ)1-3
LEGAL ST/​HISTORY  261 American Legal History to 18603
LEGAL ST/​HISTORY  262 American Legal History, 1860 to the Present3
LEGAL ST 400 Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (* Comp Con Law) 13-4
LEGAL ST 409 Human Rights in Law and Society 13
LEGAL ST/​SOC  415 The Legal Profession3-4
LEGAL ST 444 Law in Action3
LEGAL ST/​LAW/​SOC  641 Sociology of Law3-4
POLI SCI 309 Civil Liberties in the United States3-4
POLI SCI 311 United States Congress3-4
POLI SCI 340 The European Union: Politics and Political Economy 13-4
POLI SCI 347 Terrorism 13
POLI SCI 354 International Institutions and World Order 13-4
POLI SCI 356 Principles of International Law 13-4
POLI SCI 408 The American Presidency3-4
POLI SCI 401 Selected Topics in Political Science (Legal Writing)3-4
POLI SCI 401 Selected Topics in Political Science (Global Access to Justice) 13-4
POLI SCI 411 The American Constitution : Powers and Structures of Government4
POLI SCI 412 The American Constitution: Rights and Civil Liberties4
POLI SCI 414 The Supreme Court as a Political Institution3
POLI SCI 417 The American Judicial System3-4
POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR  419 Administrative Law3-4
POLI SCI 432 Comparative Legal Institutions 13-4
POLI SCI/​INTL ST  434 The Politics of Human Rights 13-4
POLI SCI/​INTL ST  439 The Comparative Study of Genocide 13-4
POLI SCI 470 The First Amendment3-4
POLI SCI 510 Politics of Government Regulation3-4
POLI SCI 601 Proseminar: Topics in Political Science (*Supreme Court *Constitutional Issues)3
POLI SCI 635 Comparative Politics of Sport 13-4


Four courses from at least three of the following Theme groups:

Process of Legal Order and Disorder

Theme 2: Processes of Legal Order & Disorder
COM ARTS 371 Communication and Conflict Resolution3
COM ARTS 671 Communication and Social Conflict3
ENVIR ST/​PL PATH  368 Environmental Law, Toxic Substances, and Conservation2
HISTORY 344 The Age of the American Revolution, 1763-17893-4
INTL ST 601 Topics in Global Security (*International Criminal Justice: Models & Practice)1-4
LEGAL ST/​L I S  460 Surveillance, Privacy, and Police Powers3
LEGAL ST/SOC 694 Criminal Justice Field Observation2-3
POLI SCI 314 Criminal Law and Justice3-4
PSYCH 526 The Criminal Mind: Forensic and Psychobiological Perspectives4
PSYCH 601 Current Topics in Psychology (*Juv Delin)3
R M I 615 Liability Risk Management3
SOC 421 Processes of Deviant Behavior3-4
SOC 441 Criminology3-4
SOC 446 Juvenile Delinquency3-4

Law and Social Forces

Theme 3: Law & Social Forces
AFROAMER/​GEN&WS  625 Gender, Race and the Civil Rights Movement3
AFROAMER 671 Selected Topics in Afro-American History (*Crim Blkns; Race & Inprison)3
AFROAMER 673 Selected Topics in Afro-American Society (*Race and Policing )3
AMER IND 450 Issues in American Indian Studies (*Indigenous Rights *Nat Resources *Fed Ind Law *Ind Child Welfare)3
ECON 522 Law and Economics3-4
ENVIR ST 349 Climate Change Governance3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  439 US Environmental Policy and Regulation3-4
HISTORY 408 American Labor History: 1900-Present3-4
GEN&WS 424 Women's International Human Rights3
HISTORY 500 Reading Seminar in History (*Chinese Law)3
HISTORY/​AFROAMER  628 History of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States3
LEGAL ST 400 Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Civil Rights)3-4
LEGAL ST 400 Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Impacts of Social Legal Issues on Health)3-4
LEGAL ST 400 Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Law, Sexuality and Society) 13-4
LEGAL ST 400 Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Neighborhoods, Crime and Punishment)3-4
LEGAL ST 400 Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Wrongful Convictions)3-4
LEGAL ST/GEN&WS 422 Women and the Law3
LEGAL ST/​GEN&WS/​SOC  425 Crime, Gender and Justice 13
LEGAL ST/​ENVIR ST/​HISTORY  430 Law and Environment: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives3
LEGAL ST/​CHICLA/​SOC  440 Ethnicity, Race, and Justice3-4
LEGAL ST/​CHICLA/​SOC  443 Immigration, Crime, and Enforcement3-4
LEGAL ST 450 Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (*Jewish Law)3-4
LEGAL ST/​L I S  645 Intellectual Freedom3
LEGAL ST/​L I S  663 Introduction to Cyberlaw3
POLI SCI/​INTL ST  434 The Politics of Human Rights3-4
PSYCH 311 Issues in Psychology (*Psychology of Law)1-4
PSYCH 401 Psychology, Law, and Social Policy3
PSYCH 601 Current Topics in Psychology (*Legal Psych)3
SOC/​ASIAN AM  220 Ethnic Movements in the United States3-4

Law and Culture

Theme 4: Law & Culture
ANTHRO 350 Political Anthropology 13-4
ANTHRO 448 Anthropology of Law 13
COMP LIT 203 Introduction to Cross-Cultural Literary Forms (*Law & Lit *Prison & the dream of freed) 13
COMP LIT 350 Problems in Comparative Literatures and Cultures (*Literature and Prison *Literature & Prison) 13-4
COMP LIT 500 The Comparative In and Beyond Comparative Literature (*Guilt) 13
ENGL 142 Mystery and Crime Fiction3
HISTORY 201 The Historian's Craft (*Shanghai Life)3-4
HISTORY 500 Reading Seminar in History (*Chinese Law) 13
ILS 371 Interdisciplinary Studies in the Arts and Humanities (*Books by Crooks)3
LEGAL ST 450 Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (*Criminal Justice and Popular Culture) 13-4
LEGAL ST/​HISTORY  477 History of Forensic Science 13
LEGAL ST/​HISTORY  510 Legal Pluralism 13
LITTRANS 236 Bascom Course-In Translation (*Extreme Stories )3
LITTRANS 324 Topics in Scandinavian Literature (*Criminal Utopias) 13-4

Law and Theory

Theme 5: Law & Theory
HISTORY/​LEGAL ST  476 Medieval Law and Society3
LEGAL ST/HISTORY 426 The History of Punishment 13-4
LEGAL ST/​HISTORY  459 Rule of Law: Philosophical and Historical Models 13-4
LEGAL ST 450 Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (*Jurisprudence)3-4
JOURN 563 Law of Mass Communication4
MED HIST/​PHILOS  558 Ethical Issues in Health Care3
PHILOS 304 Topics in Philosophy: Humanities (Philos and Criminal Punishment)3-4
PHILOS 341 Contemporary Moral Issues3-4
PHILOS 559 Philosophy of Law3
PHILOS/MED HIST/AGRONOMY/C&E SOC 565 The Ethics of Modern Biotechnology3-4

Methods and Research

Two courses, one each from:

Research Design
Research Methods in Political Science
Introduction to Survey Research
Research Methods
Methods of Sociological Inquiry
Statistics: Measurement in Economics
Introduction to Statistical Inference for Political Research
Basic Statistics for Psychology
Statistics for Sociologists I
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences

Core Perspectives4

One Core Perspective course:
American Legal History to 1860
American Legal History, 1860 to the Present
Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Civil Rights)
Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Law, Sexuality and Society) 1
Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Neighborhoods, Crime and Punishment)
Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (Wrongful Convictions)
Human Rights in Law and Society 1
Crime, Gender and Justice 1
The History of Punishment 1
Ethnicity, Race, and Justice
Immigration, Crime, and Enforcement
Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (Jurisprudence and Social Issues)
Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (Criminal Justice and Popular Culture) 1
Rule of Law: Philosophical and Historical Models 1
Surveillance, Privacy, and Police Powers
History of Forensic Science 1
Legal Pluralism 1
Special Topics in Legal Studies
Sociology of Law
Electives 5
Choose either a Senior Thesis...
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Thesis
and Senior Thesis
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
... or two additional Theme courses from above


At least two courses in the major must have substantial content dealing with countries or cultures outside the United States. These courses are footnoted with a number one ​(1) in the lists of courses in each Theme group.  For this requirement, a course can count both for purposes of meeting the Distribution requirement above and the Non-US Legal Systems requirement.


residence and quality of work

  • 2.000 GPA in all LEGAL ST and major courses
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, taken in residence6
  • 15 credits in LEGAL ST and courses for the major, taken on campus

Honors in the Major

Students may apply for admission to Honors in the Legal Studies Major in consultation with the Legal Studies undergraduate advisor(s).

Honors in the Legal Studies Major: Entrance Requirements

  • Declaration of the legal studies major
  • A 3.300 overall university GPA
  • A 3.500 GPA for all LEGAL ST courses, and all courses accepted in the major
  • Completion of or current enrollment in, for Honors credit, at least one course accepted in the major

Honors in the Legal Studies Major: Requirements

To earn Honors in the Major in Legal Studies, students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 overall university GPA
  • Earn a 3.500 GPA for all LEGAL ST courses, and all courses accepted in the major
  • Complete the research design and statistics requirements for the regular major prior to enrollment in the Senior Honors Thesis (typically junior year)
  • Complete 15 credits in the major, taken for Honors, earning a B or better grade in each course
  • Complete a two-semester Senior Honors thesis in LEGAL ST 681 and LEGAL ST 682, for a total of 6 credits.7

University Degree Requirements

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. Analyze and articulate their own arguments about how social, political, and cultural phenomena shape law and legal systems.
  2. Analyze and articulate their own arguments about the social, political, and cultural impacts of law at the societal and individual levels.
  3. Demonstrate knowledge about how legal ideas and ideologies have changed over time and have shaped law and legal systems.
  4. Demonstrate their abilities to find, interpret, and utilize resources relevant to law and society.
  5. Demonstrate their abilities to analyze information, to write clearly and persuasively, and to construct original arguments.
First Year
Communication-A (complete during your first year)3Ethnic Studies (complete within first 60 credits)3
Quantitative Reasoning-A (complete during your first year)3L&S Breadth3
Foreign Language (if required)3-4L&S Breadth3
LEGAL ST/​SOC  131 or 2173-4Foreign Language (if required for the BA)3-4
First-Year Seminar (optional)1I/A Comp Sci, Math, or Stats (if required for the BS)3-4
 13-15 15-17
Second Year
Legal Studies Theme Course3Legal Studies Theme Course3
L&S Breadth3Communication-B3-4
Statistics (also satisfies Quantitative Reasoning B)3-4Research Design requirement3-4
L&S Breadth3L&S Breadth3
 15-16 15-17
Third Year
Legal Studies Theme Course4Legal Studies Theme Course4
Legal Studies Theme Course (non US focus)3Legal Studies Theme Course (non US focus)3
L&S Breadth3Elective3
 16 16
Fourth Year
Additional Theme Course or First Semester Senior Thesis3Additional Theme Course or Second Semester Senior Thesis3
Core Perspectives Course3Elective3
 15 15
Total Credits 120-127


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  3. Within the Starfish app, select Martine Delannay or Carolyn Lesch and find an available date and time

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L&S career resources

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and liberal arts degree; explore and try out different career paths; participate in internships; prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications; and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers). In short, SuccessWorks helps students in the College of Letters & Science discover themselves, find opportunities, and develop the skills they need for success after graduation.

SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career. 

Students should set up their profiles in Handshake to take care of everything they need to explore career events, manage their campus interviews, and apply to jobs and internships from 200,000+ employers around the country.