Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Zelinsky: Add a Fourth Year to Law School

4 YearsOxford University Press Blog:  Add a Fourth Year to Law School, by Edward Zelinsky (Cardozo):

Three considerations counsel the need for an additional year of law school:

First, there is today much more law to learn than there was in the past. ...

Second, through expanded LLM programs, we are de facto creeping towards four years of legal education. In many areas of the law, such as tax, LLM degrees have grown in prominence. Several factors are fueling the expansion of LLM programs. Chief among these is that there is now more law to cover in a fourth year of law school. Rather than the currently haphazard growth of LLM programs, it would be more sensible to require universally a fourth year of education for all law students.

Third, many of the same critics who favor a two year law school curriculum also support expanded clinical education for law students. Such expanded clinical education should not come at the expense of substantive legal education but in addition to it. One way of thinking about the proposed fourth year of law school is that it responds to the demand for more clinical education in light of the simultaneously growing need for more substantive legal education.

The most serious argument against a fourth year of law school is the additional cost it would entail. Legal education is already too expensive. Adding a fourth year would impart even greater urgency to task of controlling the expense of law school, just as there is currently great urgency to the task of controlling the costs of undergraduate education.


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Do I hear five years? five! Five! five! anybody say FIVE years?

Posted by: Colonel Walt cade | Nov 8, 2013 6:01:57 PM

"I have been appalled since I was in law school some 35 years ago how little law faculty and law students know about the parts of history and political philosophy that are directly relevant to the development and genius of our hybrid Constitutional/common law system."

Aside from the handful of USSC clerks who go on to the appellate boutiques, I have trouble thinking of something less relevant to the practice of law. You know, what law schools are supposed to teach their students, and what students borrow upwards of $80,000/year to learn. The penumbras of the 3rd Amendment do not help one find a client, draft a document, or appear in the correct courtroom. Such content, interesting though it may be, is better off the purview of programs like Yale's new PhD in Law.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 7, 2013 8:48:32 AM

I support this proposal as a way to shut up the naysayers who criticize the third year of law school as "worthless" "a waste of time" and "an excuse to use federal loan money to get drunk." I guarantee nobody will be complaining about 3L when 4L is in the mix!

Posted by: BoredJD | Nov 7, 2013 7:37:00 AM

Mark Johnson: it's not the "liberal arts degree" that matters, it's the content of the liberal arts degree. Which is why my comment focused on the material I think essential, not the more general liberal arts - which have become something of a bad joke at most elite universities, both in their content and their lack of real rigor.

And, simply being a "top graduate" with a "very successful career" does not mean that they know what a lawyer really ought to know, in my view. Clearly, I'm making a normative judgment, and one could disagree, but I have been appalled since I was in law school some 35 years ago how little law faculty and law students know about the parts of history and political philosophy that are directly relevant to the development and genius of our hybrid Constitutional/common law system.

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Nov 7, 2013 6:26:37 AM

Why a fourth year? Are some escaping un-brainwashed after three?

If so, perhaps better admissions screening is necessary. Or, better pre-brainwashing programs at the undergraduate level are required (although, given the undergraduate degree programs' stellar success thus far, ... I doubt that's the problem).

Posted by: Yuri | Nov 7, 2013 4:26:04 AM

Publius Novus is off-base on the need for more focus on liberal arts. Three of the top five graduates in my law school class were business majors, with the top two graduates having finance degrees. At least one more in the top ten was an engineer. All of them have gone on to very successful careers and with one exception, they weren't leftist/statist eggheads like most of those who came with liberal arts degrees.

Posted by: Mark Johnson | Nov 6, 2013 6:23:45 PM

Checking in for the LOLs.

Posted by: No, breh. | Nov 6, 2013 12:40:30 PM

I think the Liberal Arts talk is overdone, but it is natural to hold your own education pathway in high regards. Western Civ, ethics, and the like are important, but you could make the same argument that lawyers need to understand business, economics, religion, and technology, among other things.

Posted by: Engineer | Nov 6, 2013 10:25:26 AM

The mere suggestion is so absurd as to be laughable. Law school should be TWO years. This is merely an attempt to reframe that debate so that the status quo of three seems like a compromise.

Posted by: Evan Meagher | Nov 6, 2013 10:15:40 AM

Although the comments in this thread are indeed excellent, they don’t go nearly far enough. While it’s no doubt essential for law graduates to have a nuanced understanding of both political philosophy through the Enlightenment, and political history in general, it is equally if not more important for them to master a host of other subjects, if they are to become the lawyer-citizens we aspire to produce.
For example, is it responsible to issue law degrees to people who do not have a firm grasp of the basic principles of economics and finance, given the key role lawyers play in our financial systems, and the political agencies that regulate them? I think not!

Furthermore, contemporary scholarship has demonstrated that the classic principles of economic analysis must be enriched with insights from the world of psychology, if those principles are to even begin to adequately reflect the actual world. Any law graduate who is not familiar with behavioral economics is no more qualified to practice law than a law graduate who has not learned to take a deposition.

And this is only the very beginning of what law students should learn. As was pointed out recently by the University of Chicago’s Anthony Casey (a young man for whom I predict great things):

“We will teach you to explore how rules, policy, and human behavior interact. It is precisely for this reason that law school is (more than any other area of study) so interdisciplinary. You cannot understand the rights that a lender will exercise against a bankrupt corporation without understanding finance, economics, psychology, political theory, and philosophy, to name a few.”

Well said, Professor Casey. That is why law school, more than any other form of education, educates our students in all the humanities and social sciences, and increasingly, in a world in which the intersection between intellectual property law and biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering becomes ever-more important, the physical sciences as well.

Just as the ancients considered philosophy the queen of the sciences, law school, in the contemporary American university, is the queen of the disciplines. And may God save the queen.

Posted by: Paul Campos | Nov 6, 2013 9:58:08 AM

That is funny, I finished in 2 1/2 years and was out working at a law firm more than I actually attended class. By the 3rd year, everyone has pretty much checked out. a 4th year would be a joke.

Posted by: Brian G. | Nov 6, 2013 8:59:25 AM

Publius Novus, liberal arts majors seem to be the most unemployed recent graduates. The market certainly doesn't care for them. I think your arguments regarding dangers to Democracy and the English language are half-baked. I don't know how to respond because there's no stated rationale. Is your post pure sarcasm or is it serious?

Posted by: HTA | Nov 6, 2013 8:26:31 AM

What an asinine idea. Let's add more useless curriculum for students to learn (and immediately forget). I would actually argue that most of what is taught now in law school is irrelevant for the practice of law. Of course, it probably doesn't help that most tenured professors (which schools love) have very little practice experience, much less recent practice experience.

Of course the professor completely glosses over the cost issue. I understand that when he went to school in the 70s, the year's tuition could be earned in the preceding summer. However, now that tuition is now north of $50,000 (all said and done) you cant just gloss over cost as a non-issue. Frankly it sounds like he is just trying to weasel into more federal money, regardless of the actual costs/toll done to his students, which unfortunately, is becoming more common in academia.

As to the haphazard LLM programs, I will agree. However, I will ask, how many attorneys (as an overall percentage) actually enroll in an LLM program? Aside from tax, I do not know a single practicing attorney with an LLM degree, and even most tax attorneys do not have one. As a result, it seems downright dishonest to suggest the profession is moving towards a 4 year eduction.

Posted by: Michael | Nov 6, 2013 7:46:34 AM

Add a fourth year to law school? Easy! Just make it an undergraduate degree!

Posted by: Gregale | Nov 6, 2013 7:26:57 AM

Two points. First, bravo to Prof. Zelinsky. His proposal effectively exposes the logical inconsistencies of the two-year advocates, while integrating a very necessary discussion of the LL.M. problem.

Second, I agree with CatoRenasci, but would go further. Many of the deficiencies in current law grads are directly attributable to the relatively recent and highly regrettable trend away from liberal arts education. Business, accounting, and STEM grads simply do not have the grounding in writing and Western Civilization necessary for the successful study and practice of law. Allowing engineering grads to obtain J.D.s without first requiring study of Western Civilization is dangerous to democracy. Similarly, STEM grads with J.D.s are dangerous to the English language. A liberal arts education should be the principal entry path to law school. Holders of non-liberal arts undergraduate degrees should be required to complete at least a year of intensive study of English and Western Civ before undertaking law study.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Nov 6, 2013 7:04:09 AM

This is a laughably stupid idea. The Above the Law article on it does a good job of pointing out the obvious flaws:

So I'll merely add that I do see one way this could work--transform legal education into an undergraduate program.

Posted by: Jobs | Nov 6, 2013 7:01:30 AM

A fourth year makes sensse only if legal skills and clinical requirements are expanded. Also, consideration should be given to requiring only two years of undergraduate education for admission to law school.

Posted by: Bernie Schaeffer | Nov 6, 2013 6:53:24 AM

Absolutely. It's not just the increase in the quantum of law, the proliferation of agencies and disparate procedural systems, but also the role law schools have assumed in providing remedial education to offset the deficiencies of the K-12 and undergraduate education systems. Every time a remedial course is added and academic credit is awarded, there is a reduction in the amount of time law students invest in bread and butter law school courses. Add in the reluctance of the practice world to pay law school graduates while they are taking their fourth and fifth years of legal education at a law firm, and it makes sense to do what needs to be done, and to take the time that needs to be invested, to send into the practice world graduates who are prepared more extensively than those graduating under the three-year remedial system now in place.

Posted by: James Edward Maule | Nov 6, 2013 6:06:15 AM

Adding a 4th year to law school is actually a very good idea. I'm not sure just adding more law courses, and a bit more clinical/practicum work would be the best solution. I think at least half of an additional year - in the US at least - should be devoted to making sure law students understood (1) the classics of political philosophy from Plato and Aristotle through Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and the Enlightenment, and (2) political history (of the sort no longer fashionable) covering the formation and decline of republics ancient, medieval and modern, the story of the development of political rights from Magna Carta through the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution (and the English Bill of Rights) through the American Founding and the French Revolution, and the horrors of communism in the 20th century.

Not all that ambitious, really, just the basics as I see them. Given that law students today (at least at the elite law schools) are intelligent (if not well-educated), all of that should be possible to cover in 30 semester hours.

I think that kind of knowledge would do far more to ensure that lawyers would do more good than harm than anything else we could do.

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Nov 6, 2013 5:38:28 AM