A new proposal to shave off one year from the New York three-year law school requirement and allow students with sixty hours of study at an accredited law school to sit for the bar and practice law would only continue an already broken model and foster a caste system in the practice.
Per the proposal (NYLJ, Jan. 22), early bar-takers would not be awarded the degree of Juris Doctor for failure to complete the ABA-required 83 credit hours. The argument behind the proposal is that lawyers eager to get out to practice would save tuition money for the third year of law school while those wishing to stick around for a third year of learning could do so, and earn their JD.
The problem with this approach lies in the social stratification so endemic in the practice of law. Legal metrics are everywhere: schools are ranked, grades (according to a pre-set curve) determine whether you summer at a large firm; summering at a large firm determines if you will make six figures coming out (and thus be able to pay off your law school loans, or be the most highly educated barista in your local coffee shop); and, if the proposal is implemented, whether you have your JD or not will be yet another basis for an adversary to argue against your application for counsel fees, for example.
To be sure, a lawyer coming out after two years of law school is just as inexperienced as a lawyer coming out after the third -- both should, ideally, spend at least a year in an apprenticeship before being qualified to practice law. But since academic achievement in law school equates (illogically) to being paid a higher salary upon graduation, there would be little incentive for those receiving scholarships and/or attending top law schools to cut short their course of study.
If the purpose of law school is to prepare one to practice law, then couldnt the entire thing be boiled down to a summers worth of bar exam preparation? Bar review companies are fond of saying to students that should know better that passing the bar means one is qualified to try a murder case and prepare a will, and everything in between. By the time a bar review course rolls around, first-year core courses like torts and civil procedure are usually long forgotten, so bar candidates are re-learning the basics once again anyways, in a condensed, bare-bones approach. But if the purpose of law school is to prepare one for a career spent in philosophical applications of legal arguments to everyday principles and/or academia, then a more in-depth course of study would be beneficial.
In view of the recently enacted requirement of 50 hours of pro bono service an overhaul would be in order: two years of law school, followed by a third-year practicum/apprenticeship taught by adjunct-practitioners (for CLE credits) during which the 50 hours are satisfied. Tuition is thus consequently reduced, practical experience is gained, and no one has to forfeit earning a JD in the process.