How Law Students Would Reform Law Schools
SMALLER CLASS SIZES … LOWER COSTS … MORE PUBLIC SERVICE
While amending grading and increasing experiential learning are the main reforms on the Class of 2016’s wish list, graduates submitted several other intriguing possibilities. One is reducing class sizes, enabling students (particularly fledgling 1Ls) to get more personal support. “While some professors are able to adapt well to large groups,” explains Arizona State’s Chase Millea, “I’ve found that small class sizes enable meaningful discussion, ensure understanding, and offer a better experience overall.”
Another flashpoint is affordability. According to George Washington Law’s Julia Haigney, who started out as a part-time evening student working a full-time job, financial stress is a pervasive part of law school culture. “First-year students worry about job prospects and third-year students sometimes feel disillusioned if their career search has not gone as expected,” she says.
The pressure is even greater for students entering public service, adds the University of Washington’s Manmeet Dhami. This could ricochet back onto low-income individuals — those most in need of legal help. “It is difficult to serve as an advocate when you are riddled with law school debt,” Dhami observes. One possible solution: greater commitment to serving the disadvantaged. “If I had a magic wand, I would close the gap that exists between people who need legal services and can’t afford them, and law school graduates who need jobs and can’t find them,” says Northwestern Law’s Meghan Claire Hammond. “Fortunately, some good organizations, like the Civic Legal Corps, have already started pursuing this.”
FORGET 2 YEARS — LET’s GO FOR 4!
Though some activists have proposed a two-year law curriculum to cut debt, George Mason Law’s Peter Donohue believes such changes would be misguided. Instead, he suggests a four-year program — and while he admits that it sounds “insane” on the surface, he points out that there is a method behind the idea.
“After three years, I feel like I am leaving school having only touched the tip of the iceberg,” Donohue says. “Four years would allow students to dig a little deeper into the wealth of knowledge law school has to offer. In a four-year program, the first year could be focused on learning to write and think like a lawyer. The second could continue academic coursework while adding a focus on extracurricular activities like journals and competitions. The third year could be more practice-oriented, where students would go out into the work force and really learn an area of law through hands-on work while also beginning to pay down loans; this would make students more open to all opportunities after graduation because they would not feel as burdened by law school debt.
“Finally, the fourth year could be more high-level legal academic work, where students could take classes which dig deeper into the theoretical side of the practical work they had done in their third year.”
The Best & Brightest also yearned for greater diversity — in law school and beyond. “The legal profession does not yet reflect the makeup, diversity, and breadth of the community that it serves,” Vanderbilt Law’s Samiyyah Ali says. “Regardless of my future career path, I hope to contribute to making the law more accessible to everyone and representative of the differing communities of our society.”