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September 22, 2005

Who's Gonna Kill 3L?

Following up on yesterday's post about whether the cost of law school should prevent people from pursuing public interest careers, Andrew Raff points to an ongoing debate at the Legal Affairs Debate Club over the oddly-phrased question: Abolish the third year of law school? Check out the give and take between Laura I. Appleman and GW's own Daniel Solove (who blogs at both Balkinization and PrawfsBlawg). Appleman seems to be the proponent of change (although she's not arguing explicitly or forcefully that law school should be only 2 years, only that something needs to change), while Solove is defending the third year (but grants that the current landscape of legal education has problems that law professors and law schools could do more to address).

I've written about this topic before, but let me be more clear: While I see pros and cons in both positions, I'm all for getting rid of the third year for cost/debt reasons alone. Saving students lots of money would reduce barriers for them to enter public interest careers, and it could theoretically reduce the cost of legal services for everyone, so it would be good public policy. An added benefit is that it could take some of the snobbery and pretentiousness out of law school and the legal profession generally because at two years the JD would become a Master's degree, plain and simple. In fact, why don't we change that pretentious name, anyway? Let's all get our Master's Degree in Law (drop the whole pile of Latin b.s.) and get on with our lives. The world would be a better place. Perhaps people would even have less disdain for lawyers if they dropped some of their pretensions.

That said, I'm willing to consider alternatives. A few pretty good ideas were floated in the comments here, any of which would probably be improvements over the current system. The debate between Appleman and Solove is generating other interesting points to consider. (Unfortunately I don't have time now to consider them in detail, but soon, I hope.)

More obscurely, does it strike anyone else as peculiar that the question posed by the Legal Affairs Debate Club does not name an actor who would do the abolishing? Is the question whether the ABA should abolish the third year (it could), or whether law schools should do it, or law professors, or law students, or...? Any of these groups could take on this cause and, with sufficient organization, could probably succeed in rolling law school back to two years. But the form of the question gets to the truth that this is an issue for which no one really wants to take responsibility. Perhaps the status quo in legal education remains largely undisturbed because the constituencies involved are so diffuse and at odds that none of them can get together well enough to really change things. If that's the case, this seems a place where the ABA, as a sort of umbrella over all of these groups, should really be taking the lead...

UPDATE: See also this post on PrawfsBlawg about states that allow people to take the bar exam w/out attending law school. That post also links to previous debate on the issue by Appleman and Solove.

Posted September 22, 2005 11:44 AM | 3L

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