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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Deborah Jones Merritt: Law School as Four Years Plus Two Years

Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Four Plus Two:

Practitioners and professors continue to explore new paths for legal education. Based on both pedagogy and market needs, I recommend this approach:

1. Move the first 1-1/2 years of law school into the undergraduate curriculum, creating a law major. Students who complete this curriculum will not be eligible to practice law, but they will benefit from a liberal arts education with a focus on thinking like a lawyer. These graduates will be able to apply their legal knowledge and critical thinking to business, public affairs, compliance, and a host of other careers. They will also be qualified to perform document review and other routine legal tasks that some JDs currently undertake.

2. Create a 2-year JD that builds upon the undergraduate degree and prepares graduates for law practice. Like other graduate departments, these programs will enroll fewer students than the undergraduate major. They will include substantial clinical and experiential work, as well as classes focused on advanced doctrinal and policy issues. Most students in these degree programs will focus on a particular field of law, although general practice will remain one of those options.

Update:  Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Committing to Law

Legal Education | Permalink


These are all great ideas, but they don't deal with the basic problem: the practicing bar wants profitable associates but doesn't want to be bothered training them. Until this basic contradiction is resolved, you can move things around all you want, but I doubt very much will change.

Posted by: michael livingston | Nov 19, 2013 3:43:16 AM

The proposal seems to limit availability of a law degree to those who decide to pursue law at age 20 or 21. What of the people who decide to study law a year or more after college?

Posted by: MH | Nov 19, 2013 6:03:49 AM

And then those that majored in something else besides law as undergrads would take the standard three-year JD?

Posted by: HTA | Nov 19, 2013 6:35:51 AM

Mr. Livingston, Prof. Merritt's proposal addresses your concerns. Her post-baccalaureate J.D. "include[s] substantial clinical and experiential work." Now, while I agree that the devil is always in the details--how much clinical and experiential work are we talking about--she takes account of the practice-ready demands of the market place. My only concern is her apparent belief that a J.D. has something to do with graduate studies. It does not--law school is and should be a professional school, not a graduate school.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Nov 19, 2013 7:07:28 AM

These are not "new paths." Law has been an undergraduate major in most other countries from time immemorial and is already taught in many US undergraduate institutions. Several other countries, having concluded that the US system produces better-trained attorneys, are now moving in our direction: Korea and India are obvious examples. Prof. Merritt might want to address why she thinks they're wrong.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Nov 19, 2013 11:24:39 AM