August 10, 2005

It's expensive and students don't take it seriously, so...

Why not abolish the third year of law school?

Ridiculous! It is amazing that one can hold oneself out as a lawyer after a mere three years of education. And I've never noticed third year students not taking the classes seriously. If you're teaching law and your students are slacking off, you can -- and should -- remedy that problem by including attendance and participation in the grade, writing an exam that rewards engagement with the classroom discussion, and not generously curving the grades.

Third year should be full of the most challenging material -- of which there is plenty in the law. Anyone who thinks law school should be easier for law students needs to spend more time thinking about their future clients. And if you think I'm being too harsh toward law students, I would say that the law students themselves should demand an intensely challenging experience for their time and money.


Timothy K. Morris said...

I agree. My third year was where I actually begain to understand the whole "thnink like a lawyer" thing. Thanks to classes in Jurisprudence, Legal Process, Trial Advocacy, and an internship in the Federal Defenders office.

Nick said...

I find this interesting given a conversation I had with an early employer of mine when I was a student at MSOE. He also used to be the dean of students there, and before that the chairman of the EECS department, and designed the program I was in. To say the least, it was an interesting job. Anyway, on to the conversation.

He said that when they originally designed the Computer Engineering program, they were going to model it after the EE program in many respects. But then they looked at the fact that too many students were actually leaving for jobs after part of the 4th year, getting decent salaries but not graduating. As it turns out, the 4th was just burning people out because it was too hard.

The CE program was designed to make the 3rd year the hardest (and IT WAS HARD), with the 4th year being much easier and fun. By fun I mean fun for an engineer. ;) The 3rd year was the hump, that once you got over, you were home free. Plus there was more incentive to stick it out since its harder to get a good job if you drop out of the 3rd year rather than the 4th.

Paul said...

Right On. Value for your money. Learn, Baby, Learn.
I wish all colleges pushed your exact thought, challenge the stuffing out of them!

Richard Fagin said...

Prof Althouse:

I completely agree with you that is is unbelievable that one can hold himself out to be a lawyer after only three years of education - but I suspect my reasons are quite different than yours. Fact is, unless a person had substantial associated experience at some point (I spent my law school time as a patent agent), he simply has no knowledge of law practice after leaving school whatever his substantive law knowledge. Probably most law students leave school without ever having drafted a contract, a will, a trust instrument, drafted a pleading (much less know exactly where to take the paper to have it filed and in which court to file). I suspect the rationale to dump the 3d year of law school is based in part on this reality. I think law edcuation should include a long apprenticeship (2 to 3 years) rather than more classroom instruction.

vbspurs said...

Professor Althouse! Good Lord. And here we are calling you, AnnPundit.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

Coincidentally enough given the story, a friend of mine named Jennifer recently graduated from Law School last year, and it has taken her a full year to get a permanent position in an oversaturated market in Florida (she had health issues which might've played a role).

From what she said, 3rd year was comparatively light, but no less important given that she had a chance to boost up her grades, which made a lot of difference to her present employer who was antsy about what I mentioned was a delicate health problem the first 2 years.

In Med School, it's the opposite concern -- after anatomy, diseases, and beginning rotations in each of the subsequent years, in 4th year, you are practically considered a physician, and start to specialise. Your ER duties are intense, albeit not so much as your first year of residency notoriously will be.

So my question to the lawyers, or Law School students in this forum is: one obviously needs a 3rd year of Law, inductively-speaking, but if the tasks are light in comparison to 1L & 2L, would it not be prudent to space out the work so that more gets done in 3L?

(I know that's impossible with first-year Law, since many times the whole point is to see who will survive, and who will not, both intellectually, as well as socially)


yetanotherjohn said...

What about an alternative program that allows 3rd year law students to clerk as many hours as they would have gone to school for the year with out pay. They save the tuition money, get real world experience, law firms get to see them in action (which summer clerking can also do, but to less of an extent) and the 'apprenticship' aspect is likely to provide a deeper understanding in a particular field than a law school class.

I recognize this would be against the interests of the law profs (fewer fundament in chairs means and fewer tuition dollars means fewer law profs needed/afforded).

Matt said...

I think "abolish" is probably the wrong direction, but "restructure" certainly makes a lot of sense in some ways. How about structuring it so that first year is "foundational," second year is "elective/exploratory," and third year is "practical." More clinics/practicums, "real life" based classes, etc.

In my second and third years of law school I was lucky enough to have not just an extensive clinical class, but a class that (working with mock facts) took a criminal case from beginning to end, and a class (taught by a D.C. Circuit judge) in which we briefed and argued (in the Second Circuit courtroom) from actual D.C. Circuit records, with each student briefing/arguing one case and sitting as a judge in another.

That's what more emphasis should be given during the second and third years. If the third year is just an excuse for accumulating credits, then I can see the argument--but it can be more.

vbspurs said...

As an aside, here is a point about US v. other University systems around the world:

Since I don't come from America, let me just note wryly that in almost every country in the world, Medical and Law Schools are not post-graduate-only degrees, since the American University system is geared towards the liberal arts. The first two years in the US seem to be a rehash of 12th grade, where you have to take chemistry, biology, and calculus.

In other countries, once you have left school behind, you go immediately into your chosen future subject.

The way you weed out the good from the bad, however, is that you actually sit for exams to your chosen University, since there are limited spaces available.

Here, unless I am very much mistaken, a selection committee accepts you or not, based on many reasons including SAT/ACTs, volunteer work, and letters of recommendation.


Point is though, that this "skipping" of 3rd year law could only happen in the US, since to that point you've done at least 4 years of undergraduate work, and 2 years of post-graduate University work.

A typical Law degree for a person say in Brazil, would be 4/5 years, from the age they are around 17/18.

The American 2 Year Law system would still produce an older lawyer on average than the Brazilian one.

After all, who wants a 22-year old lawyer? *

P.S.: * This is precisely why Med and Law degrees are undervalued by non-"Anglo" cultures, and are seen as a conduit to something else by definition. That's even true of Canada, where a friend of mine went with his law degree to the police force (!).


Bob_Minn said...

Well, somewhat guilty here as well. As a Virginia studuent, I also traveled quite a bit and had a four-day week (not three, as Jennifer did). But let's keep in mind that our memories tend to be much rosier than reality. Jennifer misses beer and softball, and fondly reminisces about her lack of work compared to the sweatshop she's probably working at now.

But a more relaxed third year schedule was made possible by two years of rigorous teaching and learning and analyzing and absorption. Rarely did I entirely get away either; one's mind still mulls "the Law" even when visiting Antietam (my favorite excursions were Civil War battlefields). As a practicing lawyer, ideas are similarly likely to arise while eating the scallop tapas during dinner, and not necessarily while the phone is ringing nonstop in the office.

More importantly, Virginia was and is shifting to classes that are more practical, beyond Trial Advocacy that was available to me, in Third Year, which perhaps does not require the intensive butt on chair reading in a library that one does in the first two years. Though it seemed more relaxed, the ideas gelled in the third year. That is what is needed: a more practical approach, but one done in the classroom setting, not using unsuspecting clients as the guinea pigs.

BeyonceKnowsBest said...

The utility of the third year depends (1) on the individual goals of the 3L, and (2) on the programs available at the individual 3L's school. I was fortunate enough to attend a school that emphasizes practical work beyond the 1L foundational courses, so upon my choosing I could take the courses that seemed relevant to my future career without wasting my time and brain space.

On the other hand, I truly cherished my free time in my last year as a student. This country's slave-mentality of living-to-work warrants a floater course or two before the student enters the profession full-force. And if ANYONE tries to tell you future employee benefits lawyers out there that a course on trial advocacy is worthwhile to you, tell them to spend more time with their friends and family if they haven't already driven them all away.

Bruce Hayden said...

I would suggest that the reason that 3rd year is so much easier than 2nd, and in particular, than 1st, is that in many cases, you are taking the same classes that 2nd year students are. In other words, in many schools, it seems like you have 1st year required courses, and then electives.

But it is no surprise that a 3rd year law student will have an easier time, on average, as the 2nd year student sitting next to him. After all, at the start of that year, he had had twice as much law school as the 2nd year student.

I always liked the comment that one prof had when discussing the Florida vagrancy statute that was thrown out for vagueness (PAPACHRISTOU ET AL. v. CITY OF JACKSONVILLE, 45 US 156). He suggested that most 3rd year law students would qualify under the definition in the overturned statute.

The relevant city ordinance is found in FN#1, and includes "Rogues and vagabonds, or dissolute persons ... common drunkards, ... lewd, wanton and lascivious persons, ... habitual loafers, disorderly persons, persons neglecting all lawful business and habitually spending their time by frequenting houses of ill fame, gaming houses, or places where alcoholic beverages are sold or served, persons able to work but habitually living upon the earnings of [others]."

Timothy K. Morris said...

Most Canadian provences have a system where law school grads serve a year as articled clerks, under the supervision of an experienced lawyer, before they can practice on their own. See
for an overview of how Novia Scotia handles this.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

As a graduate of the UW, I would say the 3rd year was the best. I most enjoyed the 2nd semester 3rd year, 10 credit pass/fail course "General Practice" taught by a dozen or so teams of 4 practitioners who taught their specialty for one week. We had lots of practical work and those coursebooks were quite useful to the new practioner. I also got to take the seminars I had been "saving". It was really a fine finish to a nice legal education. The cherry on top? No Bar Exam! [Wisconsin is totally awesome with its diploma privilege].

Kevin S. said...

"Third year should be full of the most challenging material -- of which there is plenty in the law."

There is a lot of challenging material in the law. And one could spend a lifetime learning about it. But is one better suited to *practice* law after the third year as compared to the second? How much better (an important question, as one would certainly be more learned with 6 years than 3)? Is the marginal benefit to the public and the student worth an extra $30,000 (or quite a bit more considering opportunity costs)?

I'm in the camp that graduating lawyers do not know how to practice law, but they won't know this with 1 year or 6 years of law school. One learns more about being a lawyer one year of practice than in all three years of law school; but the tricky question is how much law school is necessary to prime that person to be *able* to learn in practice. I think 2 years is likely sufficient.

As for Richard's point, I sympathize with the view that part of what might be wrong with the third year of law school is that it is too often 2L+ rather than a different sort of education. There is no doubt that young lawyers would be benefitted from much more hands on experience, whether in clinics or advocacy classes (or a class on managing a trust account!). And many of the comments to this post indicate that educational experiences that incorporated more hands-on learning were well received. But the fact is that the market appears to pay for this on-the-job learning, so it's not clear to me that this is a cost that needs to be directly absorbed by the student.

Steve H. said...

How much trouble will I get in, if I admit that I had a blast during law school and did not find it "intensely challenging"?

Ann Althouse said...

I must admit to having a baby in the middle of my last semester of law school -- by C-section -- and still acing all my classes. Not that I didn't work.

Steve H. said...

I didn't have any babies. I just drank a lot.

Legally Intoxicated (Retired) said...

Posts like this make me look forward to my class with you this semester.