« Why Are Law Journals' Operating Dates Secret?, or, How Bepress & Scholastica are Making Me Crazy | Main | Living Precedent »

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Problems with the President's Two-Year Plan

At a town hall event in Binghamton, N.Y. earlier today, President Obama was asked the following question:

I'm a faculty member of the computer science department.  I'm very excited and encouraged by your plan on the affordability reform.  My question is related about the quality of future higher education.  As you know, many universities are trying their best to provide the best value by doing better with less.  But the challenges are real, and they're getting tougher and tougher as the budget cuts are getting tougher and tougher.  So my question is what your administration will do to ensure the best American universities remain to be the best in the world in the 21st century?

After acknowledging that state educational funding had dropped off significantly (". . . what you've seen is a drop from about 46 percent of the revenues of a public college coming from states down to about 25 percent"), the President then turned to ways in which universities could also cut costs:

So states have to do their jobs.  But what is true also, though, is that universities and faculty need to come up with ways to also cut costs while maintaining quality -- because that’s what we’re having to do throughout our economy.  And sometimes when I talk to college professors -- and, keep in mind, I taught in a law school for 10 years, so I’m very sympathetic to the spirit of inquiry and the importance of not just looking at X’s and O’s and numbers when it comes to measuring colleges.  But what I also know is, is that there are ways we can save money that would not diminish quality. 

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.

The full transcript is here.

I'm sure a lot will be said about this in the upcoming days, but since it's a Friday night in August, I thought I'd weigh in with a few initial thoughts.  So here they are:

(1) The President's proposal does not lower tuition.  It may seem obdurate to suggest that lopping off a third of the legal education provided to students would not reduce the tuition they pay.  But it won't -- at least, not on its own.  Yes, it will cut the costs of providing that education, at least in theory.  But it won't lower tuition.

Frankly, I'm somewhat baffled that proponents of the two-year plan -- and, in fact any proposal to cut the costs of providing legal education -- fail to grasp this point.  We just went through a period where a lot of law schools raised their baseline tuition at rates significantly higher than inflation despite the fact that the J.D. remained the same number of credits.  In other words, over the last decade law schools charged significantly more per credit hour.  What's to prevent them from doing this in the future?  

But, how, you may ask, could law schools really charge the same price for 1/3 less education?  Well, play it out.  Let's suppose some states allow students to sit for the bar after two years, rather than three.  Some schools would change their J.D. programs to two years, but many would not.  In fact, it's more likely that the higher-ranked schools would keep their programs as is.  But putting that variable to the side -- yes, there would be competition at lower-ranked schools, and many would create two-year programs.  But they would charge what the market could bear.  And up until very recently, that market could bear about $100,000 to $150,000 for a J.D. with many students lining up for it. Why wouldn't that market dynamic remain the same?  

If you need further proof, just look at Matt Leichter's school-by-school analysis.  As he said, "law schools do not care about controlling their costs and will shift them onto students who don’t realize that their predecessors had a significantly better deal than they did."  Since I'm a law professor, I would frame this differently (schools will keep spending to improve the education they provide and their reputation), but the point is the same: law school tuition is not constrained by credit hours.

If someone magically changed the J.D. program at my law school to two years, I wouldn't shrug my shoulders and go, "Oh well -- guess we're only two years now!"  I would work with my colleagues to figure out how we could make those two years meet the needs of our students -- and pack as much in as possible.  If the same U.S. News rankings remained in place, don't you think schools would continue to compete on class size, expenses per student, and educational reputation?  And wouldn't that drive up costs?  What if, in the new two-year law school, we added a clinical component, an externship component, and a ten-person small section component to the basic Contracts class, and then assigned it to a doctrinal professor, two clinical professors, and four adjuncts?  That would be a better class, no?  But it'd also be a lot more expensive.  A school could easily justify spending $60,000 or more a year per student -- again, if the market rewarded schools for offering such classes.  (As an aside: is it better to have two years of intensive classes or three years of broader offerings?  That's an interesting pedagogical question -- but it's a pedagogical, not a financial, one.)

So I do think, initially, a two-year program would lead to reduced tuition.  But would it hold that way?  I don't think so.  The pressures towards education excellence would increase costs to meet whatever students and their lenders were willing to pay.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, if consumers have the proper price sensitivity.  But if you want tuition to go down, work on that.  Otherwise, the assumption that law school tuition will go down if costs go down is like the argument that 11 is louder.  It assumes that law schools just can't make 10 louder themselves.

(2) The President's plan would worsen the jobs aspect of the current crisis.  No one doubts that a significant part of the current crisis is based on the drop in employment opportunities for law school graduates.  If we change the requirements so that lawyers from here on out would only need two years of school, there would be more of them, and they would come to the market more quickly.  And that would be a bad thing for those lawyers who are currently in the market.

Again, this seems to be a point that many reformers are either missing or are conveniently ducking.  If you think there are too many law grads chasing too few jobs, then you really want fewer law grads.  And if you are making legal education cheaper to provide, either by lopping off a third of the education required, or getting rid of tenure, or loosening other accreditation requirements, then you are putting down incentives for *more* law grads to be out there.  And here's the Scylla-and-Charibdis: either tuition will not go down, and law schools will just make more money off their students as their costs drop, or tuition will go down, and more students will have the economic incentives and ability to go to law school.  Pick your poison.

(3) Choices about the required program of legal education should be based on pedagogy.  The President proposed lopping a third off of legal education 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."  That's not much of a pedagogical theory -- I guess he doesn't like clinics -- but then again, there's not much pedagogy to a lot of these theories.  I believe that with increasing legal complexity, most of us would likely need more education, rather than less, to be properly prepared.  Of course, it is always the job of law schools to provide the necessary education at a sustainable price.  But schools can provide a three-year legal education at a sustainable price.  In fact, we've done it in the past.  

If we find that a two-year J.D. provides an adequate education, then we should adopt it.  But if we reduce the quality of our legal education -- and reduce it in ways that leave lawyers less able to handle their vocations -- simply because we can find no other way to reduce the price, then shame on us.

Posted by Matt Bodie on August 24, 2013 at 01:49 AM in Current Affairs, Life of Law Schools | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c6a7953ef019104f01329970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Problems with the President's Two-Year Plan:

Comments

A few points. I guess Obama is now a traitor to his class, aligning him with Paul Campos.

Law school keeps rising in price because it is fueled by unlimited funny money. Sadly, receiving a diploma magically converts the fake money into real money that must be repaid. You just observed a warning shot across your bow from the man with the money, no, the man with ALL your money. He doesn't like what you are doing in terms of education and cost. He drives your fiction of a "market".

Pedagogy? Ha, ha. I thought we are talking about law school. You are so twisted around that you have no idea how to prepare tomorrow's practicing lawyers, and that should be your mission. Somewhere in the last 50 years law schools went completely off the rails.

Posted by: First time, long time | Aug 24, 2013 7:50:11 AM

A point easily forgotten: at least some law school grads work internationally at some point in their careers and some foreign students study in US JD programs, intending to go back home. Shifting to a two year JD divorces it completely from the traditional three year LLB and would create havoc for anyone trying to get credentials recognized. It would also truly stretch the term "doctor" even more than it has already been stretched, since I doubt there is any other field where an allegedly doctorate level degree is obtainable after only two years of studying a subject.

I'm not necessarily opposed to two year programs, but we need to seriously think through the implications and costs before jumping on the bandwagon. And if we do implement something along those lines, it should probably have a different name than the three year programs, especially since some schools will offer both.

A much easier change would be to loosen the classroom teaching requirements so students could effectively do an externship at a law office, court, or state agency for their third year or a semester (something vaguely along the lines of articling in Canada), but there you run into problems with finding a sufficient number of suitable posts.

Posted by: Charles Paul Hoffman | Aug 24, 2013 8:07:06 AM

i agree strongly with your second point about the impact of the job market but would go further. if an apprenticeship or some other version of cheap labor was required in year 3, then a lot of employers would prefer to hire cheap apprentices year after year rather than first year associates who would move up in the ranks. Then there would be fewer first year associate jobs.

Posted by: Blahblah | Aug 24, 2013 8:11:57 AM

I agree with Bodie 'n' Blahblah. I loved writing that sentence.

Posted by: MC Prof | Aug 24, 2013 9:18:54 AM

I would like a sincere and detailed explanation of what proponents believe graduates would miss in losing 3L.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Aug 24, 2013 9:55:59 AM

In addition to the economic points above, I also think the 3L year is an important learning year too. There's something valuable about having classes after you've built a solid foundation.

Think about literature. I read the Great Gatsby early in high school, and then again much later in college - and obviously got a lot more out of it because I came to it with a lot more understanding, expertise, etc.

I think 3Ls have a good foundation, but it's valuable to be able to specialize in certain classes and just to take classes more generally with a much stronger foundation for learning, analyzing, etc. In some ways, it's the increasing marginal utility. Also, a lot of law school is learned via osmosis - the materials you read teach you much more than the more narrow point being discussed in class. So losing the 3L year hurts in that way too.

Without the 3L year, everyone would also basically be forced to take only bar courses. And that's harmful both to more specialty careers and people who want to be exposed to other classes for pure education or to have literacy in the subjects if they come across them during their careers.

Posted by: bobbob | Aug 24, 2013 12:20:03 PM

One last question for the Campos peeps - and I ask this in earnest.

Is the ultimate goal to reduce the costs of law school or to reduce the number of graduates (and maybe schools)? Because it seems like those goals are fundamentally in tension.

Posted by: bobbob | Aug 24, 2013 12:26:52 PM

Matt - great post.

One of the core problems with legal education is lack of jobs, and employers stating that law graduates are not ready to practice. If anything, adding a year of law school would do more to solve this problem than cutting one. Law schools could adopt the med school model, have classes for two years and "law rounds" for two years. With the extra tuition dollars, law schools could open more clinics and public service school-based firms. In other words, have lawyers on staff who have students help/shadow them for two years, all the while the school can earn money from the clients (just as doctors who have students shadow them do in university medical centers). Graduates would come out with more real-world experience, less students would apply (theoretically) because of the increase in time/cost, and schools could potentially make some money from cases (think consumer litigation, whistleblower litigation, etc.).

Posted by: EP | Aug 24, 2013 1:03:19 PM

"Is the ultimate goal to reduce the costs of law school or to reduce the number of graduates (and maybe schools)?"

Both. My ideal system would have about 100 law schools, most of which charge around 10-15K per year. Even in your Econ 101 world, the goals are not in tension. If tuition dropped, there would still not be enough jobs. If class sizes drop, there would not be enough jobs that actually pay salaries commensurate with the debt to get the degree. Therefore, it's only a tuition and class size drop that is going to bring students back to the law schools.

Now I have a question for the non-Campos peeps: do you think that law schools (non-profit institutions that perform a quasi-public function) are capable of restraining both tuition and class size regardless of demand?

The theme running through the OP is that reformers should not expect any assistance from the law schools in reducing tuition or controlling class sizes. Any proposal should be made with the assumption that law schools will attempt to restructure to preserve the status quo, not to respond to what is an obvious need for fewer law graduates and lower tuition.

And the president seems to be pointing out that throwing up your hands and blaming everything on the market is a convenient excuse students haven't been able to afford for a long time. He's telling you that if you don't exercise some self-control, the government is going to start to put conditions on the money that you can't meet. Now I think his plan will never pass Congress for reasons totally unrelated to law schools, but he's absolutely right on that point. Faculty and administrators are not simply powerless actors just swept along by the invisible hand (in a way that just so happens to be extremely professionally rewarding for them and disastrous for a lot of their students).

"there's not much pedagogy to a lot of these theories."

I've yet to see a convincing case for the three year Langdellian model except that "it's what's always been done so it must be good so let's have more of it." To my knowledge no one has attempted to measure its effectiveness at teaching core competencies against a group educated or trained some other way (and such a study would be impossible because of accreditation standards). The defenses seem to be based on subjective impression, rhetoric, and nostalgia. At this point, they are getting quite stale.

Posted by: BoredJD | Aug 24, 2013 1:49:13 PM

thanks for the response. So I see your proposal as basically including (1) price drops and (2) fairly aggressive limits on enrollment independent of demand spikes.

#2 seems to be the rub. I would love law schools to only cost 10-15K a year, but I think that would result in a massive increase in applications. It's asking a lot of law schools to ignore that demand given the massive collective action problem they face. The alternative, i guess, would be some sort of top-down quota regime that probably violates antitrust law.

I'm not saying I disagree - if it could be done, fine. But I think #2 requires a lot more effort and thought to justify than I've seen so far.

Posted by: bobbob | Aug 24, 2013 1:59:40 PM

Well traditionally #2 has been kept in check by USNWR, which punishes schools for lowering admissions standards by increasing class size. That may be the one saving grace of that ranking system, which is that it's kept law schools from going completely insane- although some schools have never focused on rankings or are now throwing off the rankings in an attempt to maintain their revenues.

Obama's proposal would work in a similar vein, tying federal funding to job prospects. A school that slashes tuition by 1/3 and tries to enroll 3x as many student would find their ability to access federal funds reduced.

But law schools could do this on their own and without colluding on a national level. They simply look at data they already have for the market their grads tend to wind up in (for most schools this would be the state they are located in and the surrounding region), keep in contact with employers, and set class size at something approaching what the demand for entry-levels is. Maybe you add 10% more seats for lifetime learners or people who don't go into law jobs.

The willingness to do something like this, both for cultural and economic reasons, is another matter entirely.

Posted by: BoredJD | Aug 24, 2013 2:28:48 PM

I also forgot to mention bar passage standards, which are one rule that arguably operates to keep low ranked schools from simply enrolling anybody who shows up with a BA. Although there are ways to get around that rule too.

Posted by: BoredJD | Aug 24, 2013 2:30:06 PM

I fail to see why institutions whose actors are *admittedly* acting in a completely market-oriented fashion (rapaciously so in many cases) ought to be considered tax exempt charities.

As for pedagogy, I'll like to understand the pedagogical justification for requiring an undergraduate degree in literally anything at all prior to attending law school. How can a requirement that can be met by such a wild diversity of experiences possibly be necessary?

Posted by: brad | Aug 24, 2013 2:42:20 PM

I think we should shorten the term of President to 2 years.

Posted by: TS | Aug 24, 2013 2:43:40 PM

Thanks Matt for the thoughtful post. As I'm teaching a third year externship and professionalism class at a school that devotes its third year to clinical, practicum, and externships (bias alert), I see this type of program as a good direction for very constructive use of the third year. Schools are well equipped to make this type of experiential learning effective not just as skills training but as part of a student's overall depth of exposure to legal subjects and development as a professional. We can provide a broad exposure of doctrinal subjects for students to choose from, we can combine academic perspectives with those of practitioners, we can structure the learning to address a range of challenges that face the profession. Integrating experiential learning with legal employers builds a bridge between academic and practioners' legal communities (or perhaps more appropriately adds lanes to the bridge that is already there), and serves to include employers who may have less visibility in at least some schools, thus broadening students' job options and prospects.

It seems to me this is a better way to go than the President's suggestion that we move to 2 years with non-educational internships and clerkships. As you note, this sends more traffic into the post-school job pile up. Plus it is a much less systematic way to prepare students for the profession. Not all students would find internships or clerkships, and those that do would have very different experiences. Some employers might do a great job of holistic mentoring and training, others might provide little more than scut work.

Respond gently . . .

Posted by: Charlie Martel | Aug 24, 2013 8:39:45 PM

If we really want to save cash, could we please follow what most of the world does and have law as an undergraduate? It could be a 3-year program where students are admitted after 2 years of college general coursework, shaving 2 years off the total bachelors/law total. IP people could take science courses in the first 2 years, then double-major, or stick with the regular B.S./J.D. combination.

Posted by: anon | Aug 24, 2013 9:57:15 PM

There is no reasonable pedological, market, or financial basis for reducing law school to two years. Obama was just taking populist aim at an easy and frankly demonized and scape goatee topic in education policy and the economy: law schools. Maybe its easier in general to bash law schools than med schools or business schools because lawyers are generally held in contempt until someone needs one.

Posted by: Anon PhD Student | Aug 24, 2013 10:51:40 PM

Auto correct made a funny/ridiculous typo in my last post...sorry about that!

Posted by: Anon PhD Student | Aug 24, 2013 10:52:21 PM

bored JD at 1:49 -- I see your point about tuition, but I do believe that a lot of law schools restrict class sizes voluntarily. Yale and Stanford, for example, could admit a lot more students than they do if they wanted to. You cannot really blame all law schools when an Indiana Tech opens up, or a Cooley expands, Most every law school has been turning away applicants, although some more than others.

Posted by: Blahblah | Aug 24, 2013 11:19:10 PM

I think Matt Bodie is right that, long term, switching to 2 years would not constrain law school tuition. But I also have another, more short-term point. Suppose schools moved to 2 years AND kept annual tuition constant, in the short term. My strong suspicion about what would happen is this: They would multiply their entering class size by 1.5.

Think about it from a dean's perspective. You've got large costs that in the short term are relatively fixed: faculty, staff, administration, library, physical plant, and a whole lot else. Let's say right now you've got 400 students per class, 1200 total at your school. Now you're supposed to go to a 2 year program, and keep annual tuition the same? Well, by far the least destructive strategy at that point, budget-wise, is to just admit 600 students per class. You've got the faculty to teach them, the classrooms and facilities to house them, and the staff to support them, everything down to the number of study carrels in the library. You've already got all that, and much of it you can't readily get rid of even if you want to. (You may be paying off the bond for your building, for instance.) So, instead of painfully trying to shed 1/3 of your faculty and staff and abruptly trying to find a building somewhere that's 33% smaller, just multiply the entering class size by 1.5, keep the same number of total students at the school, and breathe a sigh of relief. Your student-faculty ratio stays the same.

Suppose every law school did this. Short term, it would indeed lower the total tuition each law student would have to pay by 1/3. It would also cut the advanced, non-1L courses every law student could take by 50%, which would be sad for those of us who think some advanced courses have great value.

But the biggest effect would be: each school would begin churning out law graduates at a rate of 1.5x the previous rate.

If our national problem right now were that we had a huge shortage of law school graduates to fill the massive number of job openings for new lawyers, so that we really needed to multiply the number of grads we're producing each year by 1.5, then the President's proposal might just do the trick!

Posted by: Joey Fishkin | Aug 25, 2013 1:31:53 AM

I'll keep my comment short and anecdotal: I literally have no idea what the point of my third year of law school was, other than getting my grad plus dollars from the feds to my law school. Even the second year was pretty questionable, to be honest...

Posted by: Bob McFlintstone | Aug 25, 2013 2:17:34 AM

I understand the auto correct of "scape goatee" but what is "pedological"? In the legal education context, I'd assume it meant something like "relating to the art and science of footnoting."

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 25, 2013 8:22:11 AM

@Joey:

I just hope the dean of your example isn't teaching the professional responsibility class where law students are supposed to learn that lawyers shouldn't take actions harmful to clients just because it's easier and more financially rewarding than the alternatives.

It's such a good thing - ethically speaking - that we don't consider law faculty "lawyers" or their students "clients" for this purpose, isn't it?

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Aug 25, 2013 11:23:23 AM

How would our system look like without the 3Ls running all of the law reviews? :)

Posted by: Acrossthewater | Aug 25, 2013 1:11:04 PM

How much is gained by the sophomore year of college?

Freshman year, you get acclimated. Junior and senior year seem pretty purpose-driven. Perhaps less so the senior spring, but no one suggests eliminating that final hurrah. There is a reason it's called the sophomore slump. It's a year without a purpose, except inflating administrative and faculty salaries while stringing students along through the spa that is the modern university, or so the argument would go. Heck, in England, most undergraduate degrees are three years.

So should the goal in the US be college in three years?

Probably not. We have *a lot* of social and educational infrastructure built up around it being four years, and most students take longer than four years to graduate. Probably better instead to focus on improving the four-year educational experience and on increasing the share of students who graduate within four years. As a pedagogical matter, I'd say the same for law school (minus the graduation issue). These proposed quick fixes are neither.

The best part about this post is that it relentlessly hammers home the point that the goals of (1) reducing the debt of graduating law students, (2) improving the job opportunities of graduating law students, and (3) improving pedagogy are different and are often in conflict. To these I would add the goal of (4) improving the legal profession. Flooding the market with new lawyers with two years of training will probably not help matters for practicing attorneys, even if the market is unlikely to equate a two-year recent JD grad with an experienced practitioner.

None of this means law schools shouldn't continue to make efforts to bring down real tuition. It's just not obvious that lopping off one third of schooling is the solution. The tradeoffs among these four goals are meaningful, and I've not seen anyone prioritize them or propose a solution that addresses them as a whole.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 25, 2013 2:40:13 PM

2 years for law school? Really? Many students are not well-prepared after 3 years and need much mentoring and teaching for a few years. This is why many large clients have begun to resist paying for the work of first/second year lawyers. With the ever-increasing proliferation of laws and regulations, is 3 years sufficient? I have long felt that law school should be 4 years (yikes!) with the 4th year devoted to clinical, advanced legal writing, solution-oriented training, more research training, and document preparation. Law grads who are fortunate enough to become associates at sizeable firms receive a higher degree of structured teaching for their first couple of years. Too many other young lawyers are not as fortunate. JCB

Posted by: j butler | Aug 25, 2013 3:38:42 PM

In my view, j butler makes an important point too rarely appreciated by either the legal academy or its critics. Academics often seem to believe that practical skills are easy to learn, and therefore the academy should focus its energies elsewhere. The critics often seem to believe that shorter and cheaper legal education will prepare graduates to succeed in the profession as well if not better as the status quo. Having practiced for more than two decades and supervised a lot of young lawyers in the process, it is clear to me that it is quite difficult to develop the skills necessary to succeed in the practice of law -- even in areas of practice often considered of limited sophistication. Recent graduates cannot be expected to have polished skills, but if they cannot provide value to clients that exceed the fees they charge, their position is untenable. Reducing by one-third the time spent before it becomes necessary to charge clients for service is not likely to improve the cost-benefit ratio facing recent graduates. There is plenty of room to debate how the three years can best be used to prepare students to provide value to clients upon graduation. But, any program of reform that fails to focus on the ability of legal education to produce graduates that can provide value to clients upon graduation is, in my view, untenable.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Aug 25, 2013 4:48:35 PM

Perhaps someone could explain what "training" students get in the third year of law school, why this training is worth $40 or $50K in tuition especially when the training simply seems to repeat the same thing done in the previous two years, or why that training could not be provided by a legal employer.

How many of you have actually taken an advanced law school class? Corporations or evidence survey courses are not providing students with enough knowledge to pass a bar exam without Barbri, never mind begin to represent a client in a matter or cross-examine someone at trial.

Posted by: BoredJD | Aug 25, 2013 5:21:55 PM

@Larry/4:48 p.m.:

It isn't that shorter and cheaper will be better preparation for practice. It's that it's unlikely to be substantially worse, unless there were something changed about law school. As Horwitz puts it in his response to Bodie, it's a little rich to complain about Obama's pedagogical insensitivity when law schools themselves "are a little spotty on serious consideration of pedagogy" - what with their "hundred-percent end-of-semester finals," reliance on pseudo-Socratic questioning despite serious doubts about its pedagogical value outside of law professors, etc., etc.

1L exposes the students to the format which will govern their courses for the next 2 years, and accomplishes pretty much all of the sorting that employers care about. 2L is 1L with choices in courses. 3L is just 2L with even fewer reasons to care. Most of the optional writing courses one may take in 2L/3L are seminar courses, as if the graduates of more than 15-20 schools will have their scholarly opinions taken seriously in the years after they graduate. For most graduates of most schools, law school ended no later than the second semester of 2L. Unless there are serious proposals for making any of that better, then saving a student two semesters of borrowing is a good enough reason in itself to eliminate 3L.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Aug 25, 2013 5:27:30 PM

Morse Code for J: If we take it as given that the first year curriculum "accomplishes pretty much all of the sorting that employers care about," that the second year merely repeats the first "with choices in courses," and the third year is yet another repetition "with even fewer reasons to care," then of course law school should be reduced to two years, if not one. But, even if this characterization is descriptively accurate (I have my doubts, there is a lot of curricular innovation afoot, likely overdue, but afoot nevertheless), one thing I have not heard from employers in recent years is a request for graduates with even less professional training and pre-graduation experience. We should not casually assume that law school curriculum cannot be structured in ways that make the third year pay for itself. Two years of debt and unemployed may be better than three years of debt and unemployed, but not by a lot.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Aug 25, 2013 7:35:54 PM

If you make law school four years, clients still aren't going to want to pay for first year associates. Heck you could make it ten years. The only way to really learn how to be a lawyer is to be a lawyer. Firms know it, clients know it, judges know it. I guess Sinclair had it right -- It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!

Posted by: Brad | Aug 26, 2013 1:05:03 AM

Brad: As someone who spent many nights away from my wife and child when I had hired poorly trained lawyers for entry-level positions who could not get their work done satisfactorily, and who got home earlier when I made better hiring decisions, I can assure you that not all recent graduates are fungible. Those of us who like to get home at a decent hour would prefer to hire those who are better prepared for practice. Or, to put it in economic terms, the rational lawyer will look to hire a recent graduate likely to produce the most favorable cost-benefit ratio. A firm that casually assumes that all recent graduates are fungible and that "[t]he only way to really learn how to be a lawyer is to be a lawyer" is likely to go out of business before very long.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Aug 26, 2013 11:26:30 AM

@Larry/7:35 p.m.:

Regarding "(c)urricular innovation," your school may be different. Mine has chosen to replace two first-year courses with two other first-year courses as their first response to the worst employment statistics seen in a generation, which I assume that they did because a more "highly-ranked" competitor in their regional market did the same thing a year or two before.

I expect that if I go back to my school and audit a few first-year classes, that much will be the same as before. I would expect to see the ball hidden, and perhaps at one point revealed near the end (or not). I would expect to see the great professors continue to teach great classes, and the bad ones continue to be worth less than an equivalent number of hours with the appropriate E&E. What I wouldn't expect is for anybody at my law school, great or bad, to spend a lot of time wondering if the way they taught the material was best, or how recent graduates felt about the grounding they had received in a number of common subjects. And that's the problem.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Aug 26, 2013 11:32:50 AM

Larry, you still haven't explained how law school can actually prepare students for practice in a way that will make a supervisor's life easier. If three years of Socratic method ain't doing it, then four probably won't. And if the idea is that we need a year that is a practical skills year, then why not make 3L into an outplacement or residency-type program at much lower cost to the student?

Large firms and other big organizations take a chance that they will hire poorly trained or unmotivated graduates because they do not want to take the time and effort to design a hiring process that is not based on school rank and 1L grades as proxies for "Legal IQ." That's not the law school's fault, that's the fault of lazy hiring partners who end up having to do more work on the back end because they are hiring incompetent people.

Posted by: BoredJD | Aug 26, 2013 11:48:28 AM

Law schools should consider condensing the program or face the possibility of closing down later when there applicants decrease to levels that cannot support the school financially. My name is C. Rogers, and the ABA should consider a two year JD ( which includes a mandatory externship before graduation, or a three year J.D./LLM this will help make the distinction of students who studied for three years. This would also help improve students training while giving students an incentive for studying the third year. Also students should be able to take a full summer course load, and should be required to do an externship approved by their law school.

Posted by: John Doe | Oct 23, 2013 2:21:01 PM

Post a comment