The American Legal System

Module 1 of 6 - The American Legal System  — Background

Please complete the assignments below. When you are finished, click "Finish Module" (below) to continue on to the next module.


Students will

  • appreciate the historical background of our legal system and the origins of American law
  • begin to understand the operation of the state courts
  • learn about the federal court system and federal jurisdiction
  • understand initiating a lawsuit
  • start compiling a list of important terms and definitions for 1L studies

Students are expected to work on all four courses simultaneously. They may not finish one course, for example, then go back and begin another. The site has a mechanism that will prevent students from streamlining only one course. This mechanism is called a "module block," and it will stop you from clicking through.


Students will

  • understand the differences between "common law" and "civil law," "criminal law" and "civil law"
  • appreciate how American law arose from English law
  • learn about state courts and how the bulk of litigation arises here
  • understand federal courts, federal jurisdiction, and the law applied in federal cases

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2 hrs

  • ch. 1, "Historical Background" , 0.5 hrs.
  • ch. 4, "The Judicial System" , 0.5 hrs.
  • ch. 1, "Introductory Overview" , 0.5 hrs.
  • PDF Link: Terms and Definitions, 0.5 hrs.

    Module 1 – Background / Initiating a Lawsuit. Use any good print or online legal dictionary to look up these terms. A response appears in the next module under "HANDOUT."

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The American Legal System - Professor Shaun Jamison


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