Educators, Court Officials to Discuss If Third Year of Law School Is Needed

, New York Law Journal


The third year of law school has long been a punching bag for critics who argue it's a waste of time and drives up the costs of a degree, but there have been few serious attempts to do anything about it. Until now.

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What's being said

  • Larry Cary

    While most every law student loses their enthusiasm for being a law student by their third year (I was no exception) the real need to prepare law students for the actual practice of law suggests the curriculum should be lengthened to four years instead of cutting it down from three to two. When I graduated law school thirty years ago I was lucky to have taken five courses and an independent study in labor law, my area of interest, as well as other relevant coursework. I was also lucky to have clerked for a union's in-house legal department that second summer of law school and to have continued working there for 30 hours a week during my third year. My supervising attorneys gave me as much responsibility as they saw I could handle and my experience became an apprenticeship. I got the type of intensive academic and practical preparation students need to get to practice law. They won't get it under a two year curriculum. I think law school should be lengthened to four years and include an intensive paid apprenticeship at a law school approved firm so that by the end of school the student has at least a full year of real life working experience doing the things a lawyer does do. The apprenticeships should be organized around practice areas and thus allow the student to focus his studies and experience in an area he wishes to practice. I know I would hire a well prepared apprentice and I am sure other firms would as well. I reject the argument that by returning to a two year curriculum popular before World War I, that we are helping law students by enabling them to avoid debt. I agree debt is a problem since many recent grads applying for a position at my firm firm owe $150,000, but the solution to that problem is government assistance to students in the form of grants, not loans, or through subsidizing schools to enable them to reduce the tuition. The solution to the problem of preparing lawyers to practice in the 21st Century cannot be reverting to a two year 19th Century education.

  • Lisa Lerman

    Many of those who assert that the third year of law school is unnecessary or a waste of time have not experienced the benefits of clinical courses, externships, and simulation-based skills courses, which offer challenging learning experiences to law students who might be a little bored with doctrinal courses. Query whether the advocates of a two-year JD program have thought carefully about the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a career in any of the complex and specialized fields of law that proliferate in the twenty-first century. Could anyone launch a career in--say--environmental law, communications law, or in intellectual property law--with just a couple of basic courses in one of those fields under his or her belt? I don't think so; especially if the new lawyer in question did not attend an elite school and actually has to demonstrate proficiency in the intended field to get a job. Cutting off the last year of law school would be a disservice to our profession. To be anywhere near "practice-ready", our students need a full three years of well-thought-out legal education. Law schools do need to cut costs. The salary scales at some schools (not mine) may be inflated, but there are lots of other silly expenses that could be reduced. We should go back to need-based financial aid instead of falling over each other to offer free rides to the (usually economically privileged) students with the highest LSATs. We should stop squandering resources on publicity brochures and lecture series whose purpose is primarily US-news-related publicity. We should seek to trim expenses without sacrificing the generally high quality of education that US law schools offer. And we should be careful not to trample on our collective research capability, because it fuels good teaching and contributes much to the development on law and public policy. Lisa G. Lerman, Professor of Law, Catholic University Law School, J.D., NYU, 79

  • Aesop

    Educating people to become lawyers requires more than two years of classroom lectures. What we see on the disciplinary front is the failure of law schools to instill in law students a sincere sense of responsibility to the courts and the public. Rather than reducing the time for educating, perhaps it would behoove the bar to require the equivalent of a physician's residency, which occurs after receipt of an MD (sometimes called "a license to kill"). Firms would be assessed on both a clean disciplinary record and reputation in the bar for good work to qualify to employ "residents." This could intertwine with Chief Judge Lippman's pro bono program, the difference being that the new lawyer would be performing their pro bono work under the supervision and mentoring of experienced, respected members of the legal community, rather than on their own. Another alternative is a required third-year of clinical programs at law schools that provide legal services to underserved populations, with a reduction in tuition cost for students who opt for clinics.

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