Thursday, August 16, 2012

Estreicher on Two-Year Law Programs

EstreicherSam Estreicher (NYU) has a forthcoming article that will be published in the New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy: "The Roosevelt-Cardozo Way: No More than Two Years of Required Law School to Sit for the Bar." [ Download Estreicher Article ].  The abstract:

This paper argues for a revision of the rules of the New York Court of Appeals to allow students to sit for the bar after two years of law school classes. This revision, reflecting what the rule had been when both Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Associate Justice Benjamin Cardozo attended Columbia Law School, would cut the costs of legal education for many students by 1/3, hence addressing in part the concern that law school debt drives down the availability of public service lawyers. Moreover, such a move would put pressure on law schools to deliver educational services more attuned to the practical needs of their students in order to secure their enrollment for the third year. This is a matter of considerable importance at a time many law schools place fewer than half of their graduates in full-time positions requiring legal training. Although the proposal does not address what law schools do or should do, reducing the law school study requirement for bar eligibility from three to two years may encourage some law schools within New York to embrace a more professional than rather purely academic orientation that should in turn lead to enhanced skills trainingf or students likely to be practising on their own or in small firms not capable of providing sustained training. A better trained solo or small-firm practitioner will better serve the legal needs of Americans of average means.

This is obviously a controversial proposal, but one that is extremely timely.  Indeed, it fits well with Marcia's recent post and the subsequent comments. It also has a history on the development of the three-year rule that was fascinating--and that I was completely unaware of. Check it out!


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Is it really that clear that law students don't need the third year? I circulated the summary and link above to my colleagues, and there was some ensuing discussion about how students who have had a chance to develop advanced knowledge in a subject through electives, seminars, and supervised externships seem to hae a leg up in the employment market. Eliminating the third year of classes would sharply cut those opportunities. Of course, Sam is not suggesting that schools don't offer a third year; just that the Court of Appeals allow students to sit for the bar exam after their second year, making the third year optional. Perhaps students could be persuaded that it is in their interest to take a third year for specialization. But would the quality of practitioners in general be improved if that is optional? And, conversely, if most students decided it was in their advantage to take it -- especially if they couldn't find jobs after two years of law school -- where is the savings on tuition?

Posted by: Art Leonard | Aug 18, 2012 4:38:40 AM

Law schools are responding to student concerns about the time and cost (both in terms of tuition and the opportunity cost associated with foregoing a salary for three years) required to complete a law degree. As a result, a number of schools have developed accelerated programs that allow students to complete law school in two rather than three years. What will they mean for law school students?

Posted by: Federal labor law posters | Aug 21, 2012 8:43:23 PM

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