Saturday, August 24, 2013

Professor Matt Bodie on President Obama's Proposal for a Two-Year Law School

As most of you know from the post below, yesterday, President Obama proposed that law school be cut to two years.  Earlier this year, I criticized a similar proposal in the New York Times (here), and the ABA Journal wrote a post on my criticisms (here).  The gist of my criticisms were:

 "I strongly disagree with the proposal that law school should be two years.  Under our current system of legal education, most attorneys are not ready to practice even after three years in law school. . . .  Similarly, while I believe there is a significant problem with the high costs of a legal education and the debt that many graduates incur in law school, I do not think that two years of law school is a solution to that problem either.  First, lawyers who have only two years of law school will have to compete with lawyers who have three years of law school.  Who do you think firms will hire and who will get the best assignments?  Second, as is true of public interest law firms, most law firms today do not have the resources or time to train new lawyers.  Finally, the two-year proposal will not stop the glut of attorneys on the market today.  In fact, it might make it worse because more people might go to law school if they only have to go for two years."

Now, my former colleague, Matt Bodie, has written an insightful response to President Obama's comments.  (here)  His three main points are:

1. The President's proposal does not lower tuition.

2. The President's plan would worsen the jobs aspect of the current crisis.

3. Choices about the required program of legal education should be based on pedagogy.  

On point 2, he agrees with my remark that reducing law school to two years would probably result in even more lawyers.  "If we change the requirements so that lawyers from here on out would only need two years of school, there would be more of them, and they would come to the market more quickly.  And that would be a bad thing for those lawyers who are currently in the market."

He concludes: "If we find that a two-year J.D. provides an adequate education, then we should adopt it.  But if we reduce the quality of our legal education -- and reduce it in ways that leave lawyers less able to handle their vocations -- simply because we can find no other way to reduce the price, then shame on us."

Like Professor Bodie, a lot of us in the legal education reform field believe that reducing law school to two years would be a serious mistake.  Instead, let's reform the third year to make it truly valuable to our students.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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