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Civil Procedure

Courts shape our society by determining what rights can be vindicated, when, and by whom. As a congressman once declared: “I’ll let you write the substance . . . and you let me write the procedure, and I’ll screw you every time.” Civil procedure, at its best, enables the orderly, efficient, and fair resolution of disputes. But it is more than a set of rules.

The study of procedure goes to the essence of our democratic form of government: the power of the state over the individual’s liberty and property; the need for equal access to justice despite societal disparities; the central role of citizen participation reflected in juries and open courtrooms; and the relationship between states, tribes, and the federal government in our constitutional system.

Cornell Law School gives more first-year instruction in civil procedure than its peers. The ultimate goal of this introduction to civil procedure is not just a solid grasp of the relevant rules and statutes, but also an understanding of the pivotal relationship between procedure and the surrounding substantive law. One cannot begin to understand any legal system without a careful dissection of its procedural component. The civil procedure course for first-year students enables them to develop an advanced understanding of the constitutional structure in which procedure operates. In the upper-class years, specialized courses on courts and procedure connect these grand themes to important practical applications, from civil rights and transnational litigation to the study of juries, judicial decisionmaking, and the federal courts. Clinical offerings like Cornell’s renowned capital punishment post-conviction review clinic and First Amendment clinic provide students with opportunities to apply their understanding of procedure and litigation to pressing social issues.

Example Courses

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