Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Another call to drop the third year of law school: A Reply to David Lat

As my co-blogger Jim Levy mentioned a couple of days ago, David Lat has renewed the call for dropping the third year of law school.  Since we at this blog have been strong opponents of similar proposals (e.g., U.S. News), I decided to summarize our arguments as a reply to David Lat's piece.

 1. Under our current system of legal education, most attorneys are not ready to practice even after three years in law school.  As cognitive scientists have demonstrated, developing expertise requires many hours of learning.  Moreover, deep learning requires reflection, and reflection requires time.  According to Dean Daniel Rodriguez, "I speak with lawyers daily and listen to lawyers' candid critiques of our current system of legal education. What I never hear is this: Beginning lawyers are over-educated and over-trained. Nor do I hear that clients are eminently comfortable with first-year lawyers' knowledge, experience, and sophistication. Indeed, I hear very much the opposite, that is, that law schools need to develop a richer, more practically focused scheme of legal education – that is, we need to do more, not less." (here)

2. Most law firms and other employers, such as public interest groups, do not have the resources or time to train new lawyers.

3. Law students need to learn more than black letter law before they practice. They need to learn the policies behind the law and how to apply the law to real-life situations. They also need to learn how the law intersects with business and other fields of knowledge. Eliminating a year would also mean that law schools could only teach the basics. Students would no longer be able to specialize in the area of law that interests them the most. Every law graduate would be a generalist. Is this in the public interest?

4. Law schools need to prepare students to be practicing attorneys in order to serve clients and the public. This requires hands-on, practice-oriented courses.

5. Finally, a 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.

I do agree with those critics who state that the third year of law school at present is worthless for many students.  I believe that law schools can make the third year more valuable by giving students skills classes, clinics, and other experiential opportunities.  Yesterday, I wrote about the experiential proposal of the California Bar Association, and a program like this in the third year would make the third year particularly valuable in raising the quality of legal services.

The third year of law school should be reformed, not eliminated.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S. One of the comments to a previous post on this topic stated, "I agree - definitely not the answer!

How, exactly, would giving students even less training result in better lawyers able to jump out and start practicing even earlier? Already the schools don't teach them how to run their own practices, offering little or no business training. With even less time, schools would be packing more "pure law" into the curriculum, leaving no time for anything practical. And then we'd expect these students to fix the access to justice issues and fill jobs in the public service.

Why not just let them write the LSAT and if they score well, they can practice?"

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