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Saturday, May 17, 2014


Jennifer raises a good point: There is too much law to know now. I can think of several subjects I would add to Texas Tech's upper-level requirments. So perhaps the solution is breadth over depth--expose students to a bit less of more areas and subjects. And if that is what we are after, what about a trimester/quarter system? Stanford and Chicago are the most prominent law schools to follow that calendar (Stanford switched about five years ago). And Northeastern uses a year-round quarter system, with students alternating quarters in the classroom and in field co-ops over the course of three calendar years. I did undergrad on a quarter system and really enjoyed the academic experience.

The trade-off in law school is obvious. Students can take 12 courses in an academic year rather than 8-10, so they can be exposed to more subjects and areas. But instead of 13 weeks/52 class hours of a four-hour course, they get 10 weeks/40 class hours; instead of  13 weeks/39 hours of a three-hour course, they get 10 weeks/30 class hours. In Civ Pro, for example, this means so long Erie and discovery.

Thoughts? For those teaching at/attending/attended Stanford or Chicago, how did you like the trimester system? Does the trade-off work and is it worth it? Do we need to trade depth to get additional breadth?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2014 at 07:23 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


Actually, at least at Chicago awhile back, the tradeoff went in the opposite direction. In many first year courses, they were two quarter classes rather than one. So, much more time with the topic than students get at many semester schools. The breadth-depth tradeoff occurred in the upper-level, but they often dealt with that by offering more advanced courses. So, for example, Con Law, which was not a 1L course at Chicago, was divided into Con Law I (commerce clause, SOP etc), II (1st Amend), III (equal protection), and IV (religion), plus assorted single topic courses, which has fewer opportunity costs for students with a quarter system than a semester system.

The big tradeoff is not curricular, but employment and bar exam prep. You have to start studying for the bar before the Spring quarter ends and you can't start a summer position with the normal summer class. That works OK for schools of the caliber of Chicago/Stanford (although Larry Kramer had to personally persuade many law firms to make an effort to accept SLS students when they made the switch during the bottom of the downturn), but would be rough for schools with more uncertain employment prospects and more worrisome bar passage rates.

Posted by: Anon | May 18, 2014 11:51:33 PM

Yep, this. Civ Pro wasn't an issue, unless by "issue" you include breaking it up into two classes and covering a lot more stuff. Similarly, I think it works well for most of the 1L subjects, which are taught over two quarters.

The problem is one of timing. You don't start in the fall until late September -- but winter starts pretty early (and it used to be even earlier -- winter break could be like 10 days), and school goes until mid June. It makes summer work inconvenient, and you usually miss the first week or two of bar prep.

Posted by: Chicago Alum | May 19, 2014 8:34:28 AM

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