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What Should Law Schools Become?:
Over at Madisonian.net, a mob of bloggers is mobblogging this very topic.
Dan in EuroLand (mail):
They should be integrated with the undergrad degrees so a law degree is a BA, or a masters at most. The final 2 years of law school is pure rent extraction.

Also there should be a CFA equivalent. Of course lawyers will naturally try to restrict competition and law schools have an incentive to aid in that goal.
4.7.2008 10:15pm
tdsj:
I mostly agree with Dan. Trendy curricular reform is mostly about shuffling the deck chairs. The first step in law school reform is obvious: eliminate the mandatory third year. I'd be out of a job, but it'd be worth it.
4.8.2008 1:23am
The Cabbage (mail):
Cheaper. On point.

I can't believe my tuition funds classes like Critical Race Theory (or for that matter, Law &economics). Give me contracts, property, torts, con law, legal writing, criminal law, and two out of Trial Ad/Secured Transactions/IP.

No professors. Only a few Deans. Everyone else is adjuncts.

While I'm wishing fondly, burn the Bluebook. I intentionally make my cites non-BB at work. Just because nobody cares. and I'm angry.
4.8.2008 1:49am
OrinKerr:
I would be more radical. Let's abolish law school altogether. A total waste of time.
4.8.2008 2:03am
theobromophile (www):
I would be more radical. Let's abolish law school altogether. A total waste of time.

It's not just the time; it's the money.

Then again, if I weren't in law school, I would be a lot more well-rested right now.

It seems as if most people acknowledge that the third year is largely useless. Given that the third year is mandatory, although useless, it makes some sense to try to make it useful - you know, so that people who graduate actually have half a clue of how to practice law. For some reason, attorneys seem quite snootish about not wanting to attend "trade school," but fail to realise that all other professional programmes train their students to practice in the field, not just to "think like a doctor" or "think like an engineer."
4.8.2008 2:15am
OrinKerr:
It seems as if most people acknowledge that the third year is largely useless.

I think it's tremendously useful, actually. The problem is that we let students pick what to do in their last 2 years, and some students pick more wisely than others.
4.8.2008 3:21am
Dan in EuroLand (mail):
Orin Kerr,

What is your criteria for determining usefulness to the students? I am not trying to be antagonistic, I am genuinely curious. How would you make the final year useful?

Personally, as far as most students are concerned, I think school is largely a signaling mechanism to show conscientiousness to prospective employers. Upon graduating with a BA I think most students have put in enough time for a separating equilibrium to have been reached.
4.8.2008 4:17am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I think it's tremendously useful, actually. The problem is that we let students pick what to do in their last 2 years, and some students pick more wisely than others.
Orin, the problem is that you're approaching it from a different perspective, as a professor rather than as a practitioner. I can certainly see why, for someone hoping to go into academia, an additional year of coursework could be quite useful. But for the (not-so-) Silent Majority who plan to go into practice, the third year often feels like an excuse by the guild to keep potential competitors out of the workforce for an additional year.

That's not to say I disagree with your point that choosing the right courses can make the last year much more valuable. But even if one avoids the fluff courses and the courses one often selects because "that sounds interesting," that third year doesn't seem all that productive.
4.8.2008 7:16am
Happyshooter:
I agree. Let's have a 2 year degree at the master's level to get in the bar...and a four year doctor level with the current third year type of 'law and x' classes plus academic writing.
4.8.2008 9:55am
Ben P (mail):

Upon graduating with a BA I think most students have put in enough time for a separating equilibrium to have been reached.


I disagree with this to a certain extent.

A great many students start undergrad not knowing exactly what they will do when they graduate. When you're just taking a lot of random courses, there's simply not a huge incentive to drive to be in that top 5%.

In law school, on the other hand everyone's working toward the same thing and everyone knows that grades matter.

I don't necessarily think that there's that much correlation between ones grade in Freshman level Biology or Math or English class and ones work ethic as a law student or an attorney.
4.8.2008 11:26am
treebeard (mail):
Orin said, "The problem is that we let students pick what to do in their last 2 years, and some students pick more wisely than others."

I 100% agree with that. I was one of those who picked poorly. As difficult and frustrating as law school was for me, I wish I could go back and do my 2L and 3L years all over. My scheduling was very poorly considered. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but my law school experience could have been both more enjoyable and valuable.

Indeed, this is one aspect of law school that needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps it's just a matter of communication (from the administration, faculty, and career services). But after the culture shock of the 1L year, students are not likely to have a healthy perspective about the upcoming years. They need direction, rather than a "sink or swim" attitude.

What I would have done differently (I invite commentary):

1. Thrown aside the advice to take "strongly encouraged" classes, and taken classes that were genuinely interesting. This would have improved my GPA, among other things. For example, I should not have taken Tax. I know it's important, but I just didn't get it, and never will at that level. It was a debilitating experience, despite a good professor.

2. Listened to the warnings that certain classes were overwhelming. My Administrative Law class should have been four credits. It preoccupied me and drew my time and attention away from my other classes.

3. Taken a clinic. I should have thrown out one of the traditional classes and gained some hands-on experience, and worked with real people rather than a casebook.

4. Taken more writing and appellate advocacy classes.

5. Planned out a specific strategy with a faculty member or career counselor, focusing on my actual interests rather than what would be on the Bar.

On one hand I was dumb. I rejected good advice and listened to bad advice. I also ignored my own instincts (which were traumatized by my 1L year). But I also do not think many students received adequate direction in planning their 2L and 3L years.

As food for thought, and perhaps to provoke, here are two more things I did not do which I wish I had done:

1) Used commercial outlines, even at the expense of casebook reading. (I tried to learn the Rule against Perpetuities by studying the casebook and reading law review articles recommended by the professor. Stupid.) Yes, there's a benefit to reading all the cases and making your own outline. But it's not always realistic, especially if you're working part-time with a family.

2) Taken at least one or two "easy" classes, just for the sake of breathing easier and lifting up the GPA.
4.8.2008 12:12pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I though the last year and a half was a huge waste of time. And I graduated in 2 1/2 years.

I learned very little in law school about how to actually practice. But I did learn over and over again that Bush is a dictator, that without the ACLU we'd be living in a national gulag, and Guantanamo Bay is full of innocent goat herders and cab drivers.
4.8.2008 12:14pm
anonymous_:
Brian G: I find it hard to believe that your professors spent any significant amount of class time drilling in the point that Bush is a dictator, or that Guantanamo is full of innocents. I'd buy that maybe a couple of professors made comments in passing that you disagreed with, but really, don't make it out to be the all-encompassing hallmark of your law school experience.
4.8.2008 12:40pm
tdsj:
I think the third year is useful for some people. It was certainly useful for me (since I became a professor). It is not, however, useful for my wife (who will be an estate planning attorney) -- at least not nearly useful enough to justify the cost.

I think law schools should continue to offer a third year. It just shouldn't be mandatory for everyone. Let the market work -- if we can justify the cost, people will continue to come. If we can't, they won't.
4.8.2008 12:47pm
Happyshooter:
Brian G: I find it hard to believe that your professors spent any significant amount of class time drilling in the point that Bush is a dictator, or that Guantanamo is full of innocents. I'd buy that maybe a couple of professors made comments in passing that you disagreed with, but really, don't make it out to be the all-encompassing hallmark of your law school experience.

I went to a (then) top five school during the Clinton impeachment, the entire first half of conlaw was about how he wasn't guilty, what he did wasn't one of the covered acts, and the GOP hated him because he kept abortion free and safe. Every class, all class.

We ran it into the ground. After spending another two weeks on abortions (how they are good policy because our bodies our choice) there was barely time to very briefly cover standards of review. What I know about con law is thanks to commerical outlines.

At least half of each class in crim was about 'if you were in a spaceship circling the earth and saw X going on, what should you do'?

For fun, one week we split into small groups with different 3L teacher's pets to decide if the US Military, the world's premier rape force, had to be tried and convicted of war crimes or could only be disbanded.
4.8.2008 1:03pm
MarkField (mail):
More focused on teaching and less focused on research.
4.8.2008 6:59pm