Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reforming law schools through a "staged" approach to legal education

In this essay by practitioner turned academic Professor Jack Graves of Touro Law School, he suggests reforming legal education by educating students in "stages."  Through larger doctrinal classes that would be taught in a continuous 12 month cycle, students could obtain a "certificate" in legal studies more quickly and with much less expense. Students who complete "stage 1" would be prepared for and could sit for the bar exam though they would not be eligible for licensure until they completed a practicum component in "stage 2."  Following that, students could then become licensed practitioners.  

The article is called "An Essay On Rebuilding And Renewal In American Legal Education" and is available at 29 Touro L. Rev. 375 (2013).  Here's an excerpt.

The proposed model would deliver the first half of the JD curriculum at a dramatically reduced price and would do so over twelve calendar months--not by reducing curricular content, but simply by using a full twelve-month school calendar.  Cost reductions would be achieved by moving to very large doctrinal classes (significantly larger than current “large” classes), likely including significant online components. While research, analysis, and writing instruction would continue to be delivered in relatively smaller classes, this too would likely benefit from greater efficiencies through the use of online components. All of the doctrinal content necessary to prepare for the bar exam, as well as the necessary analytical and writing skills, would be delivered in three successive trimesters (or four successive quarters) within these first twelve months.

This initial twelve-month program--[we call] it Stage 1-- could serve a number of different objectives, all of which would potentially generate law school revenue, thereby reducing the required tuition price per student. First and foremost, Stage 1 would lay the basic doctrinal and analytical foundation for a JD. Second, it would prepare a JD student to take the bar exam upon completion. Third, the completion of Stage 1, by itself, could be recognized in a “Certificate” or “Master of Legal Studies” program intended for those interested in a basic legal education without the actual practice component or the predicate to licensure. Finally, Stage 1 would serve as an ideal introduction to United States law and legal methods for a foreign trained lawyer (i.e., as the primary basis for an LLM program in United States law for foreign trained lawyers).

In addition to generating additional revenues, Stage 1 would involve a significantly lower faculty cost per student. This cost would naturally be lowered by the increase in class sizes, and it could be lowered even further by increasing individual teaching loads. The tuition for Stage 1 should be no more than $15,000, maximum.

Having successfully completed Stage 1, a student would then, ideally, be allowed to sit for the bar exam--not as a final step to licensure, but as an intermediate gateway to Stage 2 of the JD program. After the successful completion of Stage 2, the graduate would then (and only then) be eligible for licensure, without further examination. Everything a student needs to pass the bar exam can reasonably be delivered in Stage 1 of the standard JD curriculum, and this approach would eliminate the current plague of third-year bar review courses thinly disguised as JD curricular content. Once a student had successfully passed the bar exam, he or she could focus more fully on learning how to practice law during the final twelve months of the JD program delivered in Stage 2.

The typical student would likely spend three to six months outside of the JD program between Stages 1 and 2, depending on how quickly a state could provide bar exam results. Students might spend the time between the administration of the exam and the announcement of the results in a variety of ways, including positions as interns or law clerks. However, a student would not be eligible to begin Stage 2 until he or she had successfully passed the bar exam.

. . . .


This “staged” approach to law school would not just reduce the risk of “failure,” but would also reduce the risk of simply changing one's mind. Many potential law students are uncertain as to whether a legal career is “right” for them. Unfortunately, the cost of learning more, in the form of first-year tuition, is sufficiently high to scare off many prospects that might have actually enjoyed a legal education. Too many others invest in that first year, despite their uncertainty, and then feel compelled to throw more “good money after bad,” eventually becoming unhappy graduates and, in many cases, unhappy lawyers. Under the proposed model, a student interested in studying law, but uncertain about his or her interest in practicing law, could invest in Stage 1 at a relatively modest tuition price, and then make objective and better informed later decisions with respect to the bar exam and Stage 2.


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