Law School: Three Years Or Just Two?

Law school profs can expect pay cuts

Can law school be taught in just two years?

In August, President Obama opened a spirited debate by suggesting law schools should be more like business schools and only take two years instead of three. It would certainly alter the legal landscape. Law schools, already reeling from declining enrollments, would likely scale back staff to cope with reduced tuition money. While students could begin earning sooner, critics wonder if that would result in clients receiving less service.

So who’s right? Recently, writers from The Washington Post and The Economist weighed in. And their views couldn’t be any more different

Bruce Ackerman, a Yale professor of law and political science, argued for keeping a three-year requirement. In his essay published by the Washington Post, Ackerman claims that deep knowledge of statistics, economics, and social sciences has grown critical to legal cases. He believes it is “frivolous” to believe students will pick up this background on the job, let alone in “bread-and-butter issues of antitrust, intellectual property or corporate law, let alone with the challenges of civil rights or environmental law.” He adds that skipping a third year would turn lawyers into bystanders who lack the systematic training to truly analyze expert beliefs and assumptions:

“Increasingly, lawyers will become secondary figures who prepare the way for ‘experts’ to present the crucial arguments before administrative agencies, courts and legislatures. Decision-makers with two-year law degrees will proceed to rubber-stamp the expert testimony that seems most impressive because they aren’t prepared to test it in a serious way.”

Conversely, The Economist contends that the time of first-year lawyers, who can command up to $160,000 at big firms, are simply “too valuable to squnder on training.” In their view, a third year only accrues debt without adding value:

“Most of the basic principles of legal analysis can be learned in a year, and law schools have made little effort to teach practical skills, since firms have historically trained new attorneys themselves. So students tend to fill their final year with classes on curious or obscure topics.”

The Economist adds that reducing debt through a two-year program would also free up students to take lower-paying law jobs in areas such as public-interest law.

Take a look at these contrasting essays and let us know your thoughts.

Sources: Washington PostThe Economist