It May be Time for the Two-year Law Degree
Posted on March 5th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors
Many feel law schools should offer a two-year option. In fact, President Obama acknowledged the practical need for a change in a speech at Binghamton University last summer- “…in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom. The third year they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.”  The issue is: should law schools allow students to graduate in just two years (versus the traditional three) to counter the recent drop in student enrollment?
A few weeks ago we discussed whether law schools were adequately preparing students for the real world. While the article [See Legal Fee Advisors’ publication: Are Law Schools Missing The Boat When It Comes To Training Lawyers How To Fairly Bill For Their Services?] focused on teaching ethical and efficient billing practices, it also brought attention to the limitations of theoretical and traditional classroom learning. As President Obama noted, by their third year, law students may gain a greater benefit from actual practice at a firm. Reducing law school study to two years may also be an economic help to students if tuition is likewise reduced. However, most two year programs, as they exist now, simply cram three years of classes into a two year period, which leaves tuition rates mostly unchanged.
The real question is whether decreasing the number of required courses would drastically affect the quality of the law school experience. Many critics argue that students would not have the opportunity to explore other non-core subjects, which could potentially steer their interests post-graduation. Others have expressed concerns about adequate preparation for the bar exam. While these arguments should be addressed, their weight may not have much force. For example, although much law school material is tested on the bar exam, the level of depth achieved in the classroom is way beyond anything required for the bar.
The take away here is: whether law schools choose to offer a less expensive two year program, or find new ways to guarantee students full time employment post-graduation, some method of reform may be necessary to attract undergrads to seek JDs in this economy.
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