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Monday, December 10, 2012

Good idea: Two-year option for bar certification

Declaration against interest from an institutional standpoint as dean, but I am strongy drawn to Sam Estreicher's "back to the future" suggestion of an option for students sitting for the bar after two years.  Such a system, if adopted, would respond in some meaningful way to student debt issues, allowing the financially burdened student to postpone -- or, in some instances, avoid entirely -- the third year and the corresponding tuition costs.

My suspicion is that most legal employers, and certainly the leading law firms, would continue to expect a law degree as a condition for employment.  (Whether this would be accomplished in two or three years remains an open question.  My law school, Northwestern, is currently the only top law school with a 2-year JD option).  Indeed, they would depend upon the educational training that law students would get from the additional 25-30 credits and would insist on that despite the student's bar passage.  That said, the ability of a student to move directly into practice, particularly in areas which would meet the woefully under-met demand by lower and middle class individuals for legal service, would create more opportunity.

Moreover, this scheme would put more good pressure on law schools to justify the work of the third year.  Estreicher is convinced that this third year would be used principally for practical skills training and would move law schools away from academic intentions.  I am not so convinced.  Yes, some schools would run their entire third year as a clinic.  Others would outsource the third year for supervised externships.  However, some schools would continue to promote more academically-oriented programming, perhaps emphasizing specialities and the kind of cumulative learning that would facilitate students' career objectives.  A small number of schools would provide opportunities, such as joint degrees and such, for students who aim toward academic careers.  In short, we would see salutary diversity among schools -- and, to the point of the proposal, more accommodation to students' financial needs and dilemmas.  Law students would vote with their wallets.  And law schools would respond to market demand.  This is all to the good.

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on December 10, 2012 at 03:00 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I wonder what this blog means by 'respond in some meaningful way to student debt issues'? For a huge swath of recent grads a JD doesn't lead to gainful employment. Would allowing them a shot at an even more worthless 2L certificate help on the job search front? I strongly doubt. Remember, law schools would just add more incoming new students to make up for the empty seats. These 2L's would still have to compete with JD's. I can't imagine many law firms would be in a rush to hire 2L's over JD graduates. This idea would just add to the underclass of those poorly employed souls who were scammed by law schools.

Posted by: Richard P | Jan 18, 2013 11:16:53 PM

I am glad to see support for this proposal on a law professors' blog. I think it has become self-evident that the process of legal education is in need of restructuring, despite all of the vested interests who want to maintain the status quo. Allowing students to take a bar exam after 2 years could begin the process of initiating substantial change.

I have long argued that there should be two tracks of legal education -- a two-year JD program for those who are just looking to punch their ticket before practicing, and a three-year LLM program for those of academic/scholarly bent. The two-year program would consist of core corses (Property, Crim, Torts, etc.) plus mandatory clinical practice, while the three-year program would be more like the present law school program, with a thesis requirement. The legal market would determine whether those who wish to progress to top firms/clerkships/etc. should take the two- or three-year track.

Additionally, we should acknowledge the reality that is usually ignored in the many recent discussions of legal education -- most of those who graduate from law school are neither going to be clerks on the Federal Circuits (or in their state courts), nor are they going to work for top firms, nor are they going to become LawProfs. Most people who graduate from law school merely want to go out and practice law as a decent and interesting way to make an above-average salary.

Posted by: DHMCarver | Dec 11, 2012 12:04:34 PM

Having read a lot about law school issues, and being an overseas lawyer, I agree entirely. The first comment ignores that the post leaves the decision on this with students. It would be far better for a student to have a choice be able to exit law school and sit the bar exam after two years, even if that meant giving up options in some firms; than to have no choice at all. What seems clear from the ongoing debates over legal education is that more flexibility and a broader range of models are necessary.

Posted by: Thomas | Dec 11, 2012 2:06:53 AM

It's a good option. Better yet would be to permit that option and also the study of law in undergraduate settings and in a "4 + 1" option. For those options, two years of work in a supervised setting where they are covered by malpractice insurance would make sense.

Posted by: John Steele | Dec 11, 2012 1:32:30 AM

So let the law firms behave stupidly by refusing to hire 2-yr grads. There are lots of jobs that do not require working for a stupid-ass law firm, like patent law, prosecutor, judge, law professorship, etc. Law Prof David Friedman doesn't even have a degree in law or economics and hasn't even taken a course for credit in either, for chrissake. On his website he says, "I am an academic economist who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field."

Indeed, anyone who has mastered STEM has a leg up on all those 3-yr JD English majors in any case, except for appointment to the Supreme Court, for which only grads with wishy-washy degrees like History, English, International Relations, Public Affairs and the like are apparently considered.

Posted by: Jimbino | Dec 10, 2012 5:09:33 PM

Good post, Dan. I agree.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 10, 2012 4:31:34 PM

True enough. Although to the extent that one impetus for this proposal is to reduce tuition costs, this would factor into some students' incentive to skip part of law school.

This is another declaration against interest (perhaps the holidays is putting me in the "giving" mood), but perhaps law schools would feel some pressure to discount the third year of tuition somewhat, thus reducing the students' overall burden.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Dec 10, 2012 4:09:44 PM

Since it takes months to hear, I doubt many early bar takers are going to skip their 3L. What will they do if they failed the bar! To me, it seems like the benefit is allowing students to look for a job as a 3L + bar and then starting work right after graduation.

Posted by: prof | Dec 10, 2012 4:04:06 PM

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