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The three-year law school program. Is it too long? President Obama hinted that it may be when he suggested that law schools seriously look into making it a two-year program. Does a third-year law student have a better grasp of the practice of law than his or her second-year counterpart? We asked, and you answered.

Is two-years enough time to teach students to “think like a lawyer”? Some think that it two years would help to push students out into the real world faster, and essentially better prepare them to handle the day-to-day questions, practices, and procedures that lawyers actually face in their practices. Some think that it is a step in the wrong direction and that it would throw these graduates into a world that relies upon law firms or lawyers to bear the burden of training (and paying) unprepared lawyers. Some think that those cost actually should be pushed onto the market rather than having graduates burdened with the vast amounts of debt that will take decades to pay off. However, some are skeptical that those costs would actually be pushed back onto the student by law schools raising tuition rates to make up for the loss of the year.

Enjoy the response. Again, if you missed your chance to contribute (shame on you) and you have your own opinion on the topic, take the more traditional route and let us know in the comments.

Last I heard firms were up in arms about the (non-existent) practical skills of new associates and clients, at least Big Law clients, were fuming over high hourly rates for law firm “trainees.” Rather than producing more “practice-ready” lawyers, 2-year programs would pawn off more of the costs for training onto firms and clients. How is this not going backwards???

Susan Hackett – Legal Executive Leadership
It seems to me that the real question isn’t the length of the stay in school, but the relevance of what’s taught. I’d be supportive of a shorter curriculum if the focus was on practical skills and their application; the current 3-year curriculum teaches legal theory and caselaw, with only a sprinkling of classes geared to serving a client or participating in a law practice. While I don’t think law schools should become technical institutes, I think most of us with fancy JDs felt ill-prepared to actually serve a real client when we graduated after 3 years of curriculum focused on theory without application to real-life practice.

For those worried that 2 years is not enough time to make a legal professional out of a college grad, perhaps we could focus on two years of formal training in law school, followed by additional time outside of the school/classroom in practical apprenticeships, from which – if successfully completed – a student could be passed forward for admission to the bar. Doctors, for instance, are required to combine schooling with residency or other clinical work to assure that they’ve been vetted in a manner which tests not only their memorization of theory and principle, but their ability to actually treat and heal a patient.  Why not consider this with law?

I blogged a while back about the topic of re-framing law school educational models if you’re interested:  http://www.legalexecutiveleadership.com/2011/blowing-up-the-box-starting-a-conversation-about-re-engineering-the-us-law-school-educational-model

(Next up: the need to talk about whether the US bar exam is a meaningful way to test for competency to practice, either!)

Cheers –
– Susan

Bob Wells
I am a proponent of two year law schools, with a third year being optional if the student sees value in the course offerings.  A good friend is a law school dean, and he believes that a person who goes directly from undergraduate to law school will not be ready to take on the legal issues of another.  Another friend believes that two year schools will only bring on more for profit law schools.


  1. That the elite schools will up the cost of tuition to cover the losses (look at the cost of two year MBAs at the elite schools if you don’t think that this likely to happen).
  2. That a two year program will require that low tier schools just teach the bar subjects and bar prep for students to pass the bar.  There will be no time for practical skills course. 

I understand the need to reformulate the law school experience but this is not the way to do it.

Adam Ziegler, Lawyer & Co-Founder of Mootus
What matters more than the length of the program are (1) the cost to students and (2) the value of what they’re being taught. Right now, students are spending $150K to acquire knowledge and skills that employers and sophisticated clients seem not to value. Whether it’s two years or three years, we need to attack those fundamental problems directly.