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.


Mister DA 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.

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)


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 (!).


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]."

Mister DA 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].

Jerry Troutman 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.

Jerry Troutman 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.