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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Monday, October 7, 2013

Merritt: Law as an Undergraduate Major

Law School Cafe:  Reframing the Two-Year Debate, by Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State):

I suggest reframing our discussion of legal education by asking four fundamental questions: (1) What does law school currently teach? (2) Which members of our society would benefit from all or part of that education? (3) Does our society need new types of law-related education? (4) How can our educational system most efficiently and effectively address the educational needs identified in response to these three questions?

Exploring these questions could take legal education in many directions. We might identify new ways to address our nation’s need for cost-effective legal assistance. We might also contribute to better workforce preparation among non-lawyers. We might even find ways to enhance high school education. For today, I’ll outline just one proposal that has emerged from my own pursuit of these questions: Create an undergraduate major based on the first two years of law school.

This major would not be a “pre-law” one; nor would it be law school lite. I propose literally transferring the first two years of law school to the undergraduate curriculum. Like our current 1L and 2L years, the major would include a large number of required courses along with some electives. Undergraduates could share some of the electives with post-BA law students, just as undergraduates in other fields share some electives with graduate students.

Legal Education | Permalink


This is a step toward the European system. The danger is that there isn't very much professional training in that system, as anyone who has taught European "law students" will know.

Posted by: michael livingston | Oct 7, 2013 2:36:08 AM

There are some similarities with the European system, but also key differences. I think that the biggest difference between Europe and the US has been Europe's heavy reliance on lectures to teach law, compared to the case method and problem solving stressed in the US. Under my proposal, we would retain the pedagogies of our 1L and 2L years, which now include some explicit skills training--and much more writing--than they did in earlier years. These pedagogies are a good fit for colleges, which are moving more in this direction.

Note that I would not let college graduates practice law after completing these two years. I would require them to complete another year. That year would be similar to our evolving third year, with a heavy emphasis on clinics and client-centered work, as well as advanced doctrinal courses and seminars.

We can offer much the same legal education that we provide today, but in a way that requires lawyers to spend less time and money on their preparation and that also educates a broader segment of the public in the basics of law. Realistically, those citizens and business people need that education--and we are the ones who can provide it.

Posted by: Deborah J Merritt | Oct 7, 2013 10:28:04 AM

This seems like a recipe for allowing a lot of undergrad schools not currently in the law school business to enter that business. They would not be responsible for reporting employment outcomes; because, of course, THEIR grads go on to the one year law school, not directly to employment. So I think that you end up with a low more law grads at the end of the day, more quasi-law school programs, less accountability of schools for enrolling too many students, and no more law jobs.

Posted by: ZFH | Oct 7, 2013 11:12:10 AM

Hey Michael, where's the professional training now? Between the pseudo-scientific Langdellian garbage, the decidedly un-Socratic Socratic Method, the pedagogically terrible phenomena of one-test-per-course (that is not given back), hiring professors who generally have practiced for two years or less, journals that are edited by students, not peer-reviewed, and full of unintentionally Alan Sokal-esque nonsense, and not teaching students how to pass the bar exam (you know, the thing required to practice law), most of us law students didn't learn the first thing about the practice of law or how to accomplish it. American legal education is little more than hollow sophistry, and the object of no end of mirth and snickering by the faculty and students of just about every other graduate and professional school.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 7, 2013 12:50:03 PM

ZFH--That's true, but I'm not sure it matters as much in a system in which law is an undergaduate major. People still get undergraduate degrees in history, even though very few of them will obtain jobs as historians, or any other jobs involving history. Granted, the proposal would screw over those who took on the time, expense, and debt required to obtain a three-year graduate degree in order to compete for the same jobs as those right out of college, but that's not necessarily a significant concern except for those graduates. Having law as an undergraduate major would reduce the cost of becoming a lawyer, could bring down the cost of legal services to the public, and could decrease the extent to which law students are pigeonholed as only qualifying for jobs in law.

However, of course, undergraduate programs have their own problems with underemployment and too much debt, but at least law students wouldn't be saddled with the additional expense of three more years of graduate education.

Posted by: Jobs | Oct 9, 2013 1:52:46 PM