Wall Street Journal: Legal Education on Trial: Is the Third Year Necessary?:
A suggestion by President Barack Obama to shrink the duration of law school could buoy the case of people who long have questioned whether law students really need a third year of academic study.
But the idea comes as law schools already are struggling with declining enrollment and could be reluctant to cut into their sources of revenue.
The debate over whether that third year is necessary is gaining traction as law-school tuition continues to climb and law graduates, some saddled with hundreds of thousands in loans, vie for a shrinking pool of jobs. At some top schools, tuition exceeds $50,000 a year.
Yet some critics say that even at three years, law schools don't adequately equip their students with the practical skills they need. ... "It's not that the third year has no value," says Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, "it's whether the value is worth the additional burden."
Legal experts on both sides of Two v. Three say the president's remarks could galvanize the push by a small group of educators who since the 1970s have urged a return to two-year law schools.
"This shows that it's in the air," says Samuel Estreicher, a professor at New York University School of Law. He has proposed that New York allow students to take the state bar exam after just two years of study at an ABA-approved law school. Candidates who pass could practice without getting their law degrees.
Current requirements allow students who have finished a year of study to take the exam if they have also completed a three-year apprenticeship. Prof. Estreicher would remove that requirement for students with two years under their belts. He says his proposal would force law schools to "earn the third year." ...
"Maybe we can't afford three years of legal education anymore," says Barry Currier, the ABA's managing director of accreditation and legal education. "But there are a lot of ways to reduce cost, and just slicing off a whole year is a blunt instrument."