Law Dean Backs Third Year
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 6, 2013 02:09
As part of his recent push for more affordable higher education, President Barack Obama recommended that law schools would be more cost effective if they offered two-year curriculums instead of the traditional three-year programs.
“Can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year?” Obama asked. “My suspicion is, is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could.”
The speech, which was part of Obama’s college affordability and financial aid tour, highlighted the president’s concerns about increased education costs coupled with increasingly competitive job markets.
Obama, a former constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, criticized law schools for maintaining high-cost programs while the legal job market is diminishing. A 2012 American Bar Association report said that only 56 percent of the Class of 2012 had found full-time, long-term employment.
“Myriad services are now being outsourced (often abroad) to non-lawyers, and the number of positions with large firms is dwindling, making it harder for graduating students — many of whom are saddled with six-figure student-loan debts — to find work at the outset of their careers that can even begin to pay off their obligations,” New York University Law School professor Samuel Estreicher, an outspoken advocate for two-year law schools, wrote in a New York Times op-ed in January.
Obama added that third-year students would benefit more from clerking or practicing at a firm. Despite the low wage paid to clerks, Obama argued that the cost would still be lower for the student.
Georgetown University Law Center Dean William Treanor disagreed with Obama’s proposed solution.
“As the demands of the legal profession continue to change, I don’t think [what] legal education needs in today’s world is a two-year program,” Treanor said. “If we are concerned with educating lawyers who will contribute to society, our focus should not be on cutting back on what they learn; our focus should be on providing them with the education they need.”
Nevertheless, Treanor agreed that today’s lawyers need more hands-on training, but not at the expense of a third year of education.
“Students today should learn to be better writers, and they should learn subjects like management, finance and accounting,” Treanor said.
Diego Soto (LAW ’16) said he would be appreciative of a lighter tuition load.
“Assuming cost of attendance does not rise significantly in direct response to the lost year, I would graduate from law school with less debt,” Soto said. “This would make accepting a lower-paying job in some sort of public interest work more realistic and less risky. While there [are] options for law school graduates who want to take these types of jobs … [those programs] never lift the heavy burden that debt places on law students from the first day those loans are disbursed.”
Soto added that Obama’s opinion regarding legal education should be respected.
“He said himself … that he understands the importance of a quality legal education, so his proposal to cut law school down to two years is not one made with merely saving money in mind,” Soto said.
Kevin Barber (LAW ’14), however, stressed the importance of hands-on third-year work.
“This coming year, I’ll be doing a clinic, which is basically where you work on actual cases for actual clients,” Barber said. “So for me, I do not think my third year will be a waste of time, but I do understand people who aren’t doing something like that might feel like it’s a waste of $50,000.”
Overall, Soto said that even if law school remains a three-year institution for years to come, law schools must do more to alleviate the challenges recent graduates face in the job market.
“Law schools would have to seriously improve their career services … in order to keep up,” Soto said.