Monday, January 14, 2013
The third year of law school has long been a punching bag for critics who argue it's a waste of time and drives up the costs of a law degree, but there have been few serious attempts to do anything about it. Until now.
Legal educators and top New York state court officials will gather on January 18 to discuss whether to allow candidates to sit for the New York state bar examination after just two years in law school. The idea was floated by Samuel Estreicher, a professor at New York University School of Law, who believes skyrocketing law school tuition and diminishing job prospects for new lawyers have created a climate favorable to reform. ...
Estreicher laid out his proposal in an article, The Roosevelt-Cardozo Way: The Case for Bar Eligibility After Two Years of Law School, in the New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy. (The title refers to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, both of whom obtained their law degrees when two years was the norm.) He described two benefits to the two-year option, not least that the cost of becoming a lawyer would be reduced by one-third and that, with lower student loan debt, graduates would be in a better position to take lower-paying jobs representing low-income clients. Second, an optional 3L year would give schools incentives to create third-year curricula of more use to students, he wrote; if students saw no real benefit to the 3L curriculum, they would sit for the bar exam instead. ...
Patricia Salkin, dean of Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, fears the two-year option wouldn't satisfy legal employers' demands for practice-ready attorneys. "If students spend the first and second years taking core courses, when are they going to develop the practical skills that firms say they want?" she said. "And for the students, will the firms hire someone with only two years of law school, even if they pass the bar?"
The answer to that question, at least for the law firms, judges and federal agencies that tend to hire a large chunk of NYU graduates, is likely no, said dean Richard Revesz. He predicted that few NYU students would be interested in the two-year option. "I'm not a fan of the proposal," he said. "I think it would not be beneficial, but I'm interested in hearing a lot of viewpoints." Revesz said he is skeptical that a two-year option would be an added incentive for schools to revamp curriculum, given that many — including NYU — have already changed their 3L curricula or are weighing such reforms.