November 12, 2012
Do Students Lose Interest In Law School By The Third Year?
There is an article in Business Insider called Law Students Reveal Their Third Year Is For Totally Slacking Off. It’s written by Professor Paul Campos of the Inside the Law School Scam Blog. The thrust of the article is that students find out that the third year of law school is a waste of time and (their) money. I can’t say that I disagree, though I may not share the depth of cynicism reflected by Professor Campos or the student comments he quotes from a Top-Law-Schools.com forum. Quotes such as “Sitting in Ethics now. Not a goddamn clue what's going on” and “I'm already burnt out and ready for it to end...bad sign?” may be a bit over the top. The collective attitude has to come from somewhere, though.
My own description of law school is that the first year works a student to death via the writing program and novelty of learning substantive law. The second year calms down the experience enough to focus on learning the law. The third year puts students to sleep. I’ll just say the energy drink industry must benefit a lot from 3Ls. By the third year the “excitement” of being in law school wears off, especially knowing that it will soon be time to reckon with job and debt issues.
Campos describes a situation that finds students missing third year classes regularly out of boredom or general lack of interest. He has four major points which I’ll summarize: 1) reading and attendance does not correspond to grades; 2) class standing is set pretty much by the third year making it pointless to try and improve; 3) law school is an inefficient way to learn how to be a lawyer; and 4) the last of the law school program has taxed the attention span after being in classrooms for 20 years.
I know that some schools are turning the third year of law school into a program that teaches skills. While it may address the idea that graduates should be able to practice law competently upon graduation, this approach to the third year may hold a student’s interest because it has some real value to them. Other schools are considering optional compressed programs that eliminate the third year entirely. I think Professor Campos’ article exaggerates the problem of 3L boredom, but the problem is real. Law school doesn’t have to be entertaining. It should, however, be intellectually interesting.Addressing the 3L blahs might even improve bar passage rates. My experience has seen schools having a hard time motivating at least some of their graduates to take the bar exam seriously. The third year structure as it is may condition some students to believe that cramming through bar prep classes is enough to get through the bar. If it worked for law school classes, why not the bar exam? That (wrong) notion could be dispelled by turning the third year into something other than more of the same. [MG]