Obama: Shorten Law School To Two Years

Here at Abnormal Use, we’ve blogged a lot about the future of legal education.  Specifically, we interviewed Rod Smolla, the now-former President of Furman University, who had thought a lot about the subject during his time at Washington and Lee University School of Law, where he led the effort to revamp the third year curriculum.  We also blogged about the value of a legal education, and whether or not students are getting their money’s worth and the unintended consequences of the high cost of a legal education.  We even proposed some solutions of our own, in the context of lawsuits being filed against lawsuits over the issue. Well, President Obama thinks he may have the solution:  nix the third year altogether.  As recently reported by The New York Times, our Lawyer in Chief made some surprising remarks in a town hall meeting at Binghamton University in New York.  His remarks, like our own discussions, were made in the context of the larger discussion about the cost of higher education – both in dollars and potential opportunity costs.  For the most part, when folks are in school they are not working, or at least most are not working full time.

The President summed up the issues quite nicely in his brief remarks, as quoted in The Times:

On Friday, he questioned the utility of a third year of classes and suggested that students use their final two semesters to gain work experience. “In the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom,” Mr. Obama said. “The third year, they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm even if they weren’t getting paid that much, but that step alone would reduce the costs for the student.”

He acknowledged that eliminating a third year could possibly hurt a law school’s finances and ability to maintain a strong faculty. “Now, the question is,” Mr. Obama said, “can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year? My suspicion is, is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could.”

It’s a tough issue.  We will continue to weigh in on it as we see developments, and bring you the perspective of other experts on the issue.  We’d love to hear your thoughts, as well.

(Stay tuned for some additional thoughts on this issue tomorrow).