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.
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.
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.
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.
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|| |
* 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.
Bachelor of Science DEGREE REQUIREMENTS
|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|| |
|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 PURSUING AN L&S MAJOR
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 Law||3|
|GEN BUS 302||Business Organizations and Negotiable Instruments||3|
|ELPA 502||Workshop in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (*Law and Public Educ)||1-3|
|LEGAL ST/HISTORY 261||American Legal History to 1860||3|
|LEGAL ST/HISTORY 262||American Legal History, 1860 to the Present||3|
|LEGAL ST 400||Topics in Legal Studies and the Social Sciences (* Comp Con Law) 1||3-4|
|LEGAL ST 409||Human Rights in Law and Society 1||3|
|LEGAL ST/SOC 415||The Legal Profession||3-4|
|LEGAL ST 444||Law in Action||3|
|LEGAL ST/LAW/SOC 641||Sociology of Law||3-4|
|POLI SCI 309||Civil Liberties in the United States||3-4|
|POLI SCI 311||United States Congress||3-4|
|POLI SCI 340||The European Union: Politics and Political Economy 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI 347||Terrorism 1||3|
|POLI SCI 354||International Institutions and World Order 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI 356||Principles of International Law 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI 408||The American Presidency||3-4|
|POLI SCI 401||Selected Topics in Political Science (Legal Writing)||3-4|
|POLI SCI 401||Selected Topics in Political Science (Global Access to Justice) 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI 411||The American Constitution : Powers and Structures of Government||4|
|POLI SCI 412||The American Constitution: Rights and Civil Liberties||4|
|POLI SCI 414||The Supreme Court as a Political Institution||3|
|POLI SCI 417||The American Judicial System||3-4|
|POLI SCI/PUB AFFR 419||Administrative Law||3-4|
|POLI SCI 432||Comparative Legal Institutions 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI/INTL ST 434||The Politics of Human Rights 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI/INTL ST 439||The Comparative Study of Genocide 1||3-4|
|POLI SCI 470||The First Amendment||3-4|
|POLI SCI 510||Politics of Government Regulation||3-4|
|POLI SCI 601||Proseminar: Topics in Political Science (*Supreme Court *Constitutional Issues)||3|
|POLI SCI 635||Comparative Politics of Sport 1||3-4|
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 Resolution||3|
|COM ARTS 671||Communication and Social Conflict||3|
|ENVIR ST/PL PATH 368||Environmental Law, Toxic Substances, and Conservation||2|
|HISTORY 344||The Age of the American Revolution, 1763-1789||3-4|
|INTL ST 601||Topics in Global Security (*International Criminal Justice: Models & Practice)||1-4|
|LEGAL ST/L I S 460||Surveillance, Privacy, and Police Powers||3|
|LEGAL ST/SOC 694||Criminal Justice Field Observation||2-3|
|POLI SCI 314||Criminal Law and Justice||3-4|
|PSYCH 526||The Criminal Mind: Forensic and Psychobiological Perspectives||4|
|PSYCH 601||Current Topics in Psychology (*Juv Delin)||3|
|R M I 615||Liability Risk Management||3|
|SOC 421||Processes of Deviant Behavior||3-4|
|SOC 446||Juvenile Delinquency||3-4|
Law and Social Forces
|Theme 3: Law & Social Forces|
|AFROAMER/GEN&WS 625||Gender, Race and the Civil Rights Movement||3|
|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 Economics||3-4|
|ENVIR ST 349||Climate Change Governance||3|
|ENVIR ST/GEOG 439||US Environmental Policy and Regulation||3-4|
|HISTORY 408||American Labor History: 1900-Present||3-4|
|GEN&WS 424||Women's International Human Rights||3|
|HISTORY 500||Reading Seminar in History (*Chinese Law)||3|
|HISTORY/AFROAMER 628||History of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States||3|
|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) 1||3-4|
|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 Law||3|
|LEGAL ST/GEN&WS/SOC 425||Crime, Gender and Justice 1||3|
|LEGAL ST/ENVIR ST/HISTORY 430||Law and Environment: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives||3|
|LEGAL ST/CHICLA/SOC 440||Ethnicity, Race, and Justice||3-4|
|LEGAL ST/CHICLA/SOC 443||Immigration, Crime, and Enforcement||3-4|
|LEGAL ST 450||Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (*Jewish Law)||3-4|
|LEGAL ST/L I S 645||Intellectual Freedom||3|
|LEGAL ST/L I S 663||Introduction to Cyberlaw||3|
|POLI SCI/INTL ST 434||The Politics of Human Rights||3-4|
|PSYCH 311||Issues in Psychology (*Psychology of Law)||1-4|
|PSYCH 401||Psychology, Law, and Social Policy||3|
|PSYCH 601||Current Topics in Psychology (*Legal Psych)||3|
|SOC/ASIAN AM 220||Ethnic Movements in the United States||3-4|
Law and Culture
|Theme 4: Law & Culture|
|ANTHRO 350||Political Anthropology 1||3-4|
|ANTHRO 448||Anthropology of Law 1||3|
|COMP LIT 203||Introduction to Cross-Cultural Literary Forms (*Law & Lit *Prison & the dream of freed) 1||3|
|COMP LIT 350||Problems in Comparative Literatures and Cultures (*Literature and Prison *Literature & Prison) 1||3-4|
|COMP LIT 500||The Comparative In and Beyond Comparative Literature (*Guilt) 1||3|
|ENGL 142||Mystery and Crime Fiction||3|
|HISTORY 201||The Historian's Craft (*Shanghai Life)||3-4|
|HISTORY 500||Reading Seminar in History (*Chinese Law) 1||3|
|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) 1||3-4|
|LEGAL ST/HISTORY 477||History of Forensic Science 1||3|
|LEGAL ST/HISTORY 510||Legal Pluralism 1||3|
|LITTRANS 236||Bascom Course-In Translation (*Extreme Stories )||3|
|LITTRANS 324||Topics in Scandinavian Literature (*Criminal Utopias) 1||3-4|
Law and Theory
|Theme 5: Law & Theory|
|HISTORY/LEGAL ST 476||Medieval Law and Society||3|
|LEGAL ST/HISTORY 426||The History of Punishment 1||3-4|
|LEGAL ST/HISTORY 459||Rule of Law: Philosophical and Historical Models 1||3-4|
|LEGAL ST 450||Topics in Legal Studies and the Humanities (*Jurisprudence)||3-4|
|JOURN 563||Law of Mass Communication||4|
|MED HIST/PHILOS 558||Ethical Issues in Health Care||3|
|PHILOS 304||Topics in Philosophy: Humanities (Philos and Criminal Punishment)||3-4|
|PHILOS 341||Contemporary Moral Issues||3-4|
|PHILOS 559||Philosophy of Law||3|
|PHILOS/MED HIST/AGRONOMY/C&E SOC 565||The Ethics of Modern Biotechnology||3-4|
Methods and Research
Two courses, one each from:
|Research Methods in Political Science|
|Introduction to Survey Research|
|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|
|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|
|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|
1NON-US LEGAL SYSTEMS
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.
This course has substantial content dealing with countries or cultures other than the United States.
No more than four (4) courses from any single SUBJECT (e.g., POLI SCI) may count toward the legal studies major; this restriction does not apply to LEGAL ST courses or courses cross-listed with LEGAL ST.
Though some courses may appear in more than one Theme Group and/or Core Perspective, a single course will only satisfy one (and only one) requirement. Courses will not be double counted.
All legal studies majors are required to take one Core Perspectives course taught by core legal studies faculty; if any of the listed courses is taught by non–legal studies faculty, the determination of whether they will count for Core Perspectives credit will be made prior to the beginning of the semester in which the course is offered. Each of these courses is intended to provide a broad and intellectually flexible perspective that can serve as a framework for gaining a deeper understanding of the material taught in other courses in the program. The Core Perspectives courses do not necessarily overlap; the criterion for inclusion of courses in the list below is that each explores its substantive content area through a range of social, scientific and humanistic approaches.
Students pursuing the senior thesis option must, in their senior year, arrange to register for 6 credits of Senior Thesis or Senior Honors Thesis in consecutive semesters for 3 credits each semester. Students are responsible for contacting a faculty member whom they would like to act as the senior thesis advisor; the major advisor can assist students in the process of selecting a senior thesis faculty advisor. Students must have the approval of the senior thesis faculty advisor before enrollment because the student will enroll for thesis credits in the department of the senior thesis faculty advisor. A student will not be able to enroll for thesis credits until after meeting with that faculty advisor. Students who plan to attend law school or graduate school and who maintain a University GPA of 3.000 or better at the beginning of the senior year (86 credits) are strongly urged to select the Senior Thesis option. The purpose of the thesis is to allow students to focus their interests and develop knowledge in one area of the field. Students may choose any legal studies topic for the senior thesis. The project involves using the library to review existing research and conducting original research designed by the student under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Early planning is best. Students contemplating the senior thesis option should schedule a legal studies advising appointment at least one semester before enrolling in senior thesis credits. A copy of the senior thesis paper, approved by the faculty advisor, must be submitted to the major advisor upon completion of the project.
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
LEGAL ST and major courses that are designated at Intermediate or Advanced level count as upper level.
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
The equivalent course in the advisor's home department may be acceptable; please see the legal studies undergraduate advisor(s) for details.
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.|
- Analyze and articulate their own arguments about how social, political, and cultural phenomena shape law and legal systems.
- Analyze and articulate their own arguments about the social, political, and cultural impacts of law at the societal and individual levels.
- Demonstrate knowledge about how legal ideas and ideologies have changed over time and have shaped law and legal systems.
- Demonstrate their abilities to find, interpret, and utilize resources relevant to law and society.
- Demonstrate their abilities to analyze information, to write clearly and persuasively, and to construct original arguments.
|Communication-A (complete during your first year)||3||Ethnic Studies (complete within first 60 credits)||3|
|Quantitative Reasoning-A (complete during your first year)||3||L&S Breadth||3|
|Foreign Language (if required)||3-4||L&S Breadth||3|
|LEGAL ST/SOC 131 or 217||3-4||Foreign Language (if required for the BA)||3-4|
|First-Year Seminar (optional)||1||I/A Comp Sci, Math, or Stats (if required for the BS)||3-4|
|Legal Studies Theme Course||3||Legal Studies Theme Course||3|
|Statistics (also satisfies Quantitative Reasoning B)||3-4||Research Design requirement||3-4|
|L&S Breadth||3||L&S Breadth||3|
|Legal Studies Theme Course||4||Legal Studies Theme Course||4|
|Legal Studies Theme Course (non US focus)||3||Legal Studies Theme Course (non US focus)||3|
|Additional Theme Course or First Semester Senior Thesis||3||Additional Theme Course or Second Semester Senior Thesis||3|
|Core Perspectives Course||3||Elective||3|
|Total Credits 120-127|
ADVISING APPOINTMENTS: PLEASE SCHEDULE VIA STARFISH
- Log in to your MyUW
- Open the Starfish app (if you do not see it, you can begin by searching for it in MyUW and adding it to your dashboard)
- Within the Starfish app, select Martine Delannay or Carolyn Lesch and find an available date and time
More help on using Starfish can be found here: https://advising.wisc.edu/facstaff/starfish/starfish-student-resources/.
If you are not a UW student, please email us at email@example.com to schedule a meeting.
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.
- Set up a career advising appointment
- INTER-LS 210 L&S Career Development: Taking Initiative (1 credit, targeted to first- and second-year students)—for more information, see Inter-LS 210: Career Development, Taking Initiative
- INTER-LS 215 Communicating About Careers (3 credits, fulfills Com B General Education Requirement)
- Learn how we’re transforming career preparation: L&S Career Initiative