Monday, January 14, 2013

Ditch the third year of law school?

That's what a group of New York bar officials and legal educators will discuss during a meeting on Friday as one way to make the pursuit of a law degree economically viable given the exorbitant cost of most three year programs. Granted something has to be done about the runaway cost of a law degree but given we're likely to remain in a buyer's job market for a long time, will students from two year programs be able to compete when employers can hire grads with three years of school for the same cost?  I'm not saying we don't need to re-think the third year of law school or pursue serious curricular reforms that replace traditional classroom teaching with apprenticeships or other real-world, experiential opportunities but for some schools to merely lop-off the third year likely isn't going to help those students compete with better trained ones.

The National Law Journal has the story:

FDR did fine without a 3L year:  New York may let law students once again take the bar exam after two years.

The third year of law school has long been a punching bag for critics who argue it's a waste of time and drives up the costs of a law degree, but there have been few serious attempts to do anything about it. Until now.

Legal educators and top New York state court officials will gather on January 18 to discuss whether to allow candidates to sit for the New York state bar examination after just two years in law school. The idea was floated by Samuel Estreicher, a professor at New York University School of Law, who believes skyrocketing law school tuition and diminishing job prospects for new lawyers have created a climate favorable to reform.

"People have been asking for years: 'Do we really need a third year of law school?' " said Estreicher, co-director of NYU's Institute of Judicial Administration. "I'm simply proposing that we give students a choice to stay for three years or leave after two. The economic downturn is a big part of it."

He believes additional states would follow suit if New York adopted a two-year option. The proposal may prove a tough sell to the legal academy at large, however, which has blocked previous attempts to drop the third-year requirement.

. . . .

Trying to convince the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar or the AALS — both run by legal educators with a financial stake in the 3L year — is a losing strategy, Estreicher said. He hopes for a friendlier hearing from New York's highest legal tribunal, the Court of Appeals. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who oversees the state's court system and who recently instituted a 50-hour pro bono requirement for admittees to the bar, and Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo are slated to attend the January 18 meeting.

"I don't know what will happen with this, but there is enough interest from some of the decision-makers to come to the meeting and hear more," Estreicher said. "I've received a lot of interest from academics, as well."

Continue reading here.


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That's rolling the clock back 125 years, when Benjamin Cardozo took the New York bar exam after two years at Columbia's Law School (as was then permitted), never to return for his third year. He did pretty well, eventually picking up an honorary degree at Columbia and a dozen other leading law schools, but how many of today's law students are budding Cardozos?

Posted by: otto | Jan 14, 2013 11:55:03 PM

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