Paul L. Caron
Dean




Monday, July 4, 2022

Horwitz: Should Undergraduate Degrees In Law Lead To Shortening Law School To Two Years By Separating Academic Study Of Law From Practical Training To Be Lawyers?

Paul Horwitz (Alabama), An Important Step ... Sideways ... in Legal Education:

Again via Paul Caron, I note this post about USC becoming the sixth law school to offer an undergraduate degree in law. The Reuters story that Caron links to asserts that this is a trend that is "catching on" in American universities, which are "seek[ing] new ways to give students a head start on legal careers and help them better understand the role of law in society." (The Reuters story identifies three law schools doing so, but Caron points to other sources that add another three to the list.) The story offers the expected quotes about the general value of learning the law. One passage notes the value of such degrees in allowing graduates to pursue "law-adjacent careers in compliance and human resources." This is of some interest, since it connects the undergraduate degree "trend," if trend it is, to the unquestionable American law-school trend of offering one- or two-year degrees or certificates in "compliance."

Without questioning the value of such programs or the sincerity of those advocating them, one is of course entitled to ask the standard "cui bono" question. ...

But it seems to me that the rise—if six schools can be considered a rise, and if more schools take this step—in undergraduate law school programs raises the obvious next question, one that was asked occasionally during the initial period of writing about the state of law schools: Why not go whole hog? Offering undergraduate programs in law, while maintaining the general structure of American legal education, strikes me as a step sideways.

The step forward would be to move more fully toward a more European model. Is it really absolutely necessary to keep our awkward mixed model of law schools as both professional education in the practice of law and scholarly education in the subject of law? Does such a model do justice to either of these goals? Why not shift those—both students and faculty—who are interested in law as a legitimate academic subject to an undergraduate and graduate Department of Law, while offering a two-year professional program for those who wish to become lawyers, one staffed largely by practitioners, clinicians, and more practice-oriented full-time faculty? ...

If this "trend" is just about filling empty seats and finding new revenue streams, so be it. But if ought instead to be food for thought—including, perhaps, the thinking of university administrators. Maybe the academic study of law and the training for the practice of law would both benefit if the ostensible trend for undergraduate degrees in law resulted in an explicit two-track, two-schools approach.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2022/07/should-undergraduate-degrees-in-law-lead-to-shortening-law-school-to-two-years.html

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