Why Not Complete Law School in 2 Years?

In a time where the economy is slowly tinkering along like an outdated train through the cornfields of Iowa (home state), law schools have a need to make a crucial pivot. Let’s be REAL. Today’s legal education is no longer practical in its approach. Of course, I am only speaking from my own experience as a third-year law student; yet, my gripes are no less disconcerting…

I came into law school just knowing I wanted to be a lawyer. From the age of seven, I was groomed and molded for the profession. My dad knew that I loved to read and talk, and I knew that I wanted to help people. Law seemed to be a natural fit. I was fortunate enough to be able to experience law firm life as a junior in high school by working for a small personal injury/workers’ compensation firm in my hometown. As a receptionist and eventually a paralegal, I was able to be trained on client counseling, court filings and etiquette, and networking with legal professionals. All of this was attained before even sitting for my LSAT. Now that I am in the home stretch of my legal education, I can confidently say that this environment does an extreme disservice to its students.

Yes, we all know John Doe’s adverse possession of Blackacre is so very important; but will we be able to explain to Sally Sue why she cannot break her lease with her landlord? Where are the students who come away from law school knowing how to build a book of business that so many of these legal hiring departments desire? Where are the students who come away knowing how to professionally and empathetically deal with a sensitive client matter? This element is sorely missing from legal education today.

In general, I feel as if the American Bar Association and subsequent law school administrators have lost sight of the market and what its consumers truly need. We need to move beyond just teaching for a bar exam, teaching for an ethics exam. Just last week I spoke to one of my peers about their graduation plans, and I asked if they knew how to draft pleadings to begin a civil case. My peer said no, laughed it off, and said she was sure she’d learn sometime. Madness! We have to show some genuine concern for the students who are going into significant debt for this education; and go beyond showing them how to write an essay and take a multiple choice exam. There should be no reason or room for a law school administrator to mention to me that her job was to make sure I pass the bar exam, and that’s it. And I am definitely tired of hearing from law professors, “Oh, your grades don’t demonstrate how great of a lawyer you’ll be.” Umm EXCUSE ME, then why am I being graded!? I am thoroughly confused about the genuine purpose of law school today.

With almost 40,000 students graduating law school each year, the time for change couldn’t be more present. Each day I try to figure out how exactly 199 ABA-approved law schools are reporting 90 percent and above employment rates when most of my friends who graduated last year either do not have a legal job or are severely underemployed. I’m not making the argument that the job statistics are misleading; I am saying there is a disconnect and deeper rooted issue of these law schools not properly nurturing students to be creative when thinking about their futures.

I ultimately have two suggestions on how law schools can pivot and create a new legal education environment:

1) mandatory practical experience for the third year of law school, AND
2) encourage creativity!

Being a lawyer essentially means you are an advocate (to support or urge in form of argument). Why not make only 2 years of casebook/black-letter law and require the third year to be only practical or advocacy work? I’m in my third-year and struggled to find relevant (mildly entertaining) coursework being that all my “bar” required courses were out of the way. I can imagine I’m not alone. This time could have been better spent clerking full-time or providing legal services to those who need them. Second, encourage students to think BEYOND working the 9-5 at a firm or even behind a desk. Encourage them to think outside the box and find meaningful ways to make the world around them better. Tell them that it is okay if they can’t find a BigLaw job, and that you’ll support them by giving them the resources they need ANYWAY! This is not about lofty/mismanaged expectations, this is about facing the realities of our situation and searching for solutions to better our tomorrow.

Posted in | Tagged |