Envisioning Law Students Eliminating the Wasted Third Year of Law
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed,
it’s the only thing that ever has”. Attributed to Margaret Meade
There is so much that is defective about legal education.
Many of the remedies suggested may take much time and effort to implement and will be strenuously opposed by the faculty and staff of traditional law schools.
For example, the acknowledged need to prepare law students for the practice of law upon graduation would require hiring faculty with experience as practicing attorneys and laying off those who don’t. Not something likely to be accomplished quickly.
The same is true for ending the on-campus interviewing programs and instituting career planning. Such a project would require a substantial laying off of staff whose role for years has been soliciting recruiters and partners of large law firms hoping they will visit their campuses and hire their students. Until a law school hires practicing lawyers as faculty who would then mentor and be career advisors for the students, the school would have to hire career counselors.
There is one significant aspect of legal education that CAN be significantly improved overnight; i.e., the extraordinarily high tuition that law schools charge. The resulting high debt load has, in the past,
pressured students to take positions in large law firms that held no appeal to many of them except for the salary. Today even many of those with offers do not expect to have enough income from their positions to live on.
What is the solution? Eliminate the third year of law school and roll-back, just like Wal-Mart might do, the expected debt by 33%.
Over the years I have often talked to students, faculty and staff. In addition many articles have been written on the subject. Rarely has anyone come up with a justification for law students staying in law school for the third year. With general agreement that the law schools take three years not to prepare students for the practice of law, it hardly seems that law students or their careers would be negatively affected if they only devoted two years to not being prepared to practice law. Estimates vary about how much time would be required to teach students how to think like a lawyer. One semester may not be sufficient but a more reasonable estimate would be 2-4 semesters.
In view of this, why is law school still three years?
Why are there one million lawyers and 80% of the legal needs of low income members of the public unmet?
Because we have not really decided we want to change the situation.
What would happen if one student at one law school told the administration that because there was no value being provided for her during the third year and since the debt she would have to incur to pay for the third year would prohibit her from being able to take any of the positions she was likely to be offered doing plaintiff litigation upon graduation, she would not enroll for the third year but would expect to be awarded her degree at the end of the second year.
The law school would gently or not so gently inform her that attendance for the third year was a requirement for graduations, that the ABA Accreditation Standards so stated, that there was value to the third year,
that the economy will improve and that she would likely be able to get a high paying position she was not interested in so she could repay her loan, yadda,
So it would end …..
Unless …… another student in her class informed the law school of her intention not to enroll for the third year for the same reasons.
Two is really not very many and they could both be ignored …..
Unless ….. two other students in their class who expected to find positions in family law practices signed on.
Just as the administration is beginning to wonder what is happening,
Four more students planning on starting their own law firm signed on to what was now a petition.
Now you have a movement.
Soon students in other law schools across the country would be informing their administrations of their intention not to enroll for the third year.
Last year a small group of thoughtful committed individuals changed the administration of the United States by electing Barack Obama as President. Here is something he said during that campaign:
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed law students can begin the process that would lead to the reformation of legal education.
What do you think? Fantasy or Future?