Lately, much has been made about the high cost of legal education. Many law school graduates are being greeted with a difficult job market and a mountain of student loan debt. One proposed solution to the issue of cost has been the elimination of a year of law school. The rationale is twofold. Firstly, most law students would likely tell you that they did as little as possible during their 3L years. Secondly, by lopping off a third of law school, you would also lop off a year’s worth of tuition.
Well now President Obama has gotten in on the action, suggesting that law schools look into the elimination of the 3L year. The reactions have been mixed. As far as the potential efficacy of this approach to cost reduction, I can speak only to my own experience as a law student.
I can tell you that, during my 3L year, I was not sure about the area of law in which I would make my career. I can tell you that I took a bunch of classes that, while enjoyable and informative, were little more than filler at the time. I can also tell you that I feel as though my time would have been better spent exploring the realities of practice in a given area of the law. In other words, it’s likely I’d have derived greater benefit from some sort of practical experience.
That said, gaining practical experience doesn’t necessitate the elimination of the 3L year altogether. Rather, it seems entirely possible that law schools could instead set up broader clinical programs and place law students in legal aid internships to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to hit the ground running as working lawyers. These programs could be supplemented with courses that provide in-depth coverage of specific subjects for those with a clear picture of their desired area of practice.
I don’t see the 3L year being eliminated altogether, but its cost could certainly be defrayed with part-time work while simultaneously increasing its value.
What do you think? Should law school be reduced to two years? Chime in in the comments.