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Should Law School Be Reduced to Two Years?

published October 15, 2013

By Andrew Ostler
( 17 votes, average: 4.4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Should Law School Be Reduced to Two Years?
The question of whether law school should be reduced to two years is an interesting one, and it has received a lot of media attention recently, especially with the recent comments from Obama, where he said that he feels that law school should be reduced to two years. We decided to reach out to current lawyers, law students, potential law students, and others and find out what they thought about this debate. We asked them this one basic question, "Should law school be 2 or 3 years?" We then asked them to explain their answer. Here are their responses. Share your own thoughts below the article by commenting.
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In response to the issue of whether law school education should be shortened to two years, I suggest that the kind of analysis taught and then applied by students is better absorbed over a three year course of study than two. Law schools typically use a rigorous approach to identifying and focusing on issues. The student then must offer support for positions and withstand scrutiny. It is a unique experience that serves students throughout their lives and in whatever endeavor they undertake. It should not be shortened.

James Nichols
Divorce lawyer, who attended law school 25 years ago.

I think the move to two years is long overdue. Provided that law students can gain the skills they will need to pass the bar exam, it's a great idea. Many students graduate law school with over $100,000 in student loan debt. There are far fewer high paying legal jobs than there were years ago. As such, many students will find themselves burdened with debt for many years. By reducing the length of law school by a year, students will be able to reduce their student loans significantly.

Steven G. Bazil, Esquire
Bazil McNulty - the international law firm that focuses on reinsurance.

Two years of classroom law school is plenty. My third year (which was back in the 80's) was mostly just elective classes I never used. If we stick to three years, we should make the third year more hands-on; like a one-year internship in the real world. When I graduated from law school, I did not have the slightest idea of how to practice law. Maybe a one-year full time internship would have helped me. It's my understanding that other countries take a much more hands-on, practical approach to legal education and we could learn from that here in the US.

David G. Barnes, J.D.
Chairman, President & CEO
Heber Fuger Wendin, Inc.

I think it should remain 3 years, but for the last year (entire school year), require students to practice in a firm or public organizations as apprentices. There should be more focus on actually practicing, and law school does not mandate it, and depending on the caliber of school you go to, you could be spinning your wheels on theories and "fact" patterns that might not ever happen in reality.

Learning skills on the client's dime is one of clients' biggest complaints, and an easy way to mitigate the steep learning curve in the workplace is to expose students to real world issues much earlier. Once students learn how to dissect opinions and facts, find the issues, participate in moot court and write a few legal briefs and papers, which is pretty much stuff you do throughout your first year, most of the exercises become repetitive in the 2nd and 3rd years and there is still an absence of real life application. It would be much more beneficial for students and clients for students to use and improve skills in an office for more than just a couple of summers.

Christopher McCauley
President and Chief Executive Whizard
Whizkins Corporation
Santa Clara, CA

I am an attorney in Washington, DC and I have also been an adjunct law professor at GWU Law School for the past 18 years.

Since I graduated, I have believed that the 3rd year of law school is wasted time. It should either be eliminated or replaced, in whole or in part, with clinical work so that students obtain real-world experience to go along with the classroom learning of the first 1-2 years.

When I first graduated, I joined a big firm as a litigation associate and was asked to file a complaint. I had no idea what one looked like (same is true of the summons's required) or how to begin to file a new case. By the end of the day, I was working for a paralegal who told me what to do. The point is that under the current system of 3 years of classroom lectures, law school graduates lack the actual skills necessary to practice law. Other skills not provided by law schools include client relations. Law schools have long operated under the assumption that students will obtain those skills in their first job. However, with the current cost of tuition and the high unemployment rate among young lawyers, law schools should either provide those skills in the 3 year program or let the students leave early to obtain those skills after two years of study.

Thomas J. Simeone, Esq.
Simeone & Miller, LLP

I believe the third year of law school education needs to shift to an internship program, similar to the one-year residency in the medical field. As a founding/managing partner of a real estate transactional and litigation firm, Pursley Friese Torgrimson , I look for candidates with a substantial amount of exposure and experience practicing law and collaborating with clients in a professional setting. Law students and graduates need more client-facing exposure and training while in law school instead of only on-the-job training after law school.

Small-to-medium size law firms like ours that want to hire new graduates also want to find ways to streamline the learning curve and limit non-billable time. These changes would make a powerful difference for law firms like Pursley Friese Torgrimson and the new lawyers we're excited join our team and help grow our business.

Christian F. Torgrimson
Managing Partner
Pursley Friese Torgrimson
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In summary: 4 years. I think that law school should be more hands on and use apprenticeship, similar to the residency requirements for medical students. If it works in situations where people's actual lives are at stake, then there should be a way to make it work in the law. (However, such a change would probably also require the overhaul of attorney billing practices to accelerate.) We'd end up with fewer lawyers, but better trained ones, and more of them would have work when they graduated.

Ashanti Cook, Esq.
Small Business Legal Services
Marquette University Law School 2012 Graduate

Lawyers are responsible for solving complex problems for individuals, businesses and families. Reducing the time of their training is a way to reduce student loan obligations, but increasing the practical experiences of law students so that they are a more marketable commodity when they leave law school is a better way to improve the profession and therefore increase the value of the "product" we sell, which is our expertise, knowledge, skill and integrity.

Lynda L. Hinkle, Esq.
The Law Offices of Lynda L. Hinkle, L.L.C.

Recently, President Obama mentioned that law schools should consider shortening the length of schooling from 3 years to 2 years. Personally, as a younger attorney (4 years out) I think the idea is worth exploring. More specifically, I think that two years of classroom work is sufficient and the third year of law school should be about gaining practical experience so that the transition from law school to a law career is easier for both the new attorney and hiring law firm.

I am currently an associate attorney at the Detroit based labor and employment law firm, Nemeth Burwell, P.C. I started working for the firm as a law clerk during my second year of law school. Prior to my law clerk position with Nemeth Burwell, I clerked for another firm and also had an internship with a state agency. It was my goal during law school to gain as much practical experience as possible. This was the only way I was going to figure out which area of law I wanted to practice. In law school, you are exposed to many areas of the law (such as torts, corporations, contracts, etc.), but you are taught overall concepts and theories. What is missing from law school is the real world application of these concepts to the practice of law. I believe the third year of law school would be better spent in law offices, courts, the moot court room, or law review/journal room rather than in the classroom. I personally learned more to help my overall career while working as a law clerk for Nemeth Burwell during my third year of law school than I did in classes during my third year. Given the valuable experience I gained as a law clerk during my third year of law school, I do not think law schools should completely do away with the third year, they should just reconsider the focus and goals for third year law students.

Erin Behler
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