Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Prospective law students say they want to earn a JD in two years while New York state considers a proposal to let them take the bar exam a semester early

Two related stories about shortening the time it should take to earn a JD as a way to lower student loan debt and help law grads enter the workforce more quickly.  In the first (courtesy of the National Law Journal), the results of a survey of 1378 prospective law students by Kaplan Test Prep found that 58% favor getting a JD in two years rather than three.  (I'm surprised the percentage was that low).  This also jibes with a survey Kaplan did last summer showing that 63% of recent law grads also favor a two year degree.  Speaking about the survey results, a Kaplan representative said:

Our survey suggests that prelaw students are paying attention to the current state of legal education and the job market for new lawyers, and recognize the need for big changes they think will benefit them,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director for prelaw programs at Kaplan. “This desire for a shake-up puts them on the same page as many in the legal education community, including law school admissions officers and educators.”

. . . .

And in another story being reported by the New York Times, that state's Chief Judge is proposing that students be allowed to take the bar exam a semester early in exchange for doing pro bono work during what would otherwise be their final semester of law school.

In an effort to bolster the number of lawyers for the poor, New York State’s top judge has cleared the way for law students to take the bar exam early in return for devoting their last semester to pro bono work.


The decision by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to let third-year law students sit for the bar exam in February in return for public service would create a new pool of lawyers for the indigent, and has the potential to change education across the country, experts on law education said.


“We can lay a cornerstone for the future of legal education,” Judge Lippman said on Tuesday during his annual address on the state of the judiciary.


New York is the largest market for lawyers and home to some of the country’s most prestigious law schools. Arizona is the only other state to have adopted a similar system, though without the public service requirement.


But some deans and experts on law school cautioned that the Pro Bono Scholars Program, as it is called, could take time to put in place and that its success would hinge on the quality of the training students receive outside the classroom.


Judge Lippman said the plan took aim at twin malaises afflicting the legal industry. Applications to law schools have plummeted in recent years as the cost of a legal education has soared and well-paid jobs for lawyers have dried up. Nearly half of graduates are not employed as lawyers nine months after they leave school, despite carrying record student-loan debts, the American Bar Association has reported. First year enrollment is lower than it has been since 1977.

. . . .

Continue reading about Kaplan Test Prep's survey results here and the New York state bar proposal here.
[UPDATE:  Thank to Professor Robert Kuehn for alerting me that the original headline incorrectly suggested that Chief Judge Lippman's proposal would let students at New York law schools graduate a semester early.  To be clear, the proposal would allow students to take the bar exam in February of their third year after which students would be eligible to do pro bono work for school credit, graduating in the spring].

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