Law School: Is Two Years Enough?

Last week, during a town hall at Binghamton University, President Obama jumped into the legal education fray when he suggested that law schools could increase the value of a law degree without sacrificing its quality by moving from a three-year program to a two-year program. The two-year/three-year debate has been alive and well in legal education reform circles for some time, but the President's comments catapulted the conversation into the national spotlight.

This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I'm in my second term so I can say it.  (Laughter.)  I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years -- because by the third year -- 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.

Now, the question is can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year.  My suspicion is, is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could.  Now, if that's true at a graduate level, there are probably some things that we could do at the undergraduate level as well.

AWall Street Journal article by Jennifer Smith surveyed some of the arguments for and against a two-year law degree, including comments by Samuel Estreicher, a law professor at New York University, who agrees that law schools must be creative and has suggested that students be allowed to sit for the bar examination after the second year of law school. His proposal would make the third year of law school optional, forcing law schools to “design creative curriculums that law students would want to pursue — a third-year program of advanced training that would allow those who wished it to become more effective litigators, specialize or better prepare for the real-world legal challenges that lie ahead.”

Estreicher will join us at our 2nd Annual Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Conference on a panel recommending structural and curricular changes law schools can make to ensure law graduates have the necessary knowledge, skills, and foundation to begin their practices.

Feel free to leave comments below, as well.