Do American lawyers need less law school?
During a question-and-answer session in August at the State University of New York at Binghamton, President Barack Obama spoke about reducing the cost of higher education and offered a possible answer to that question.
Obama argued that the amount of time it takes to obtain a law degree should be shortened from three to two years as a way to save students money.
The Harvard Law graduate and former constitutional law professor said students would be better off clerking or practicing in a firm in their third year, even if it meant working at low wages.
Daniel J. Glassman, attorney at the Rush & Glassman in Gainesville, is a supporter of Obama’s idea.
“Requiring practical application and training can only help,” Glassman said. “A lot of new lawyers are ill-equipped yet taking cases right out of law school.”
Glassman said that while he understands education is important, students are spending money and time taking classes that have no real world application. As long as there are enough opportunities available, a year of real world training would produce better lawyers.
Law school administrators are unlikely to agree with the elimination of the third year because of the tuition funds the schools would lose. The third year, if dedicated to real world training, would need to be included in tuition costs in order to get law schools on board with the change.
“Now, the question is can law students, can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year? My suspicion is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could,” Obama said.
Kenneth B. Nunn, professor of law at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, is not opposed to Obama’s idea, as long as students are still obtaining a quality education.
“This means that students must be taught the theory behind the law and not just how to practice it,” Nunn said.
If students spend their third year of law school working in a firm or clerking for a judge, their tuition costs will remain, though their experience will be heightened. Thus, higher education will still dip deeply into the students’ pockets, but they will earn their degrees more prepared to practice law.
Neda Khosravani is in her second year of law school at UF’s Levin College of Law. After interning this summer for a law firm, she realized the experience she gained was unlike anything she learned in the classroom.
“If every student has the opportunity to do the same during their third year,” Khosravani said, “then the education could be more well-rounded for students.”
Obama’s speech regarding law schools has aroused the idea that changes should be made to lower the costs of higher education and increase the preparedness of law school graduates.
Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky, professor of law at UF’s Levin College of Law, said she believes that all three years of law school are necessary as the practice of law continues to become more complex.
Lidsky suggests law school could be made more affordable by allowing students to earn a combined undergraduate and law degree in six years.
“Students would begin focusing on their legal studies earlier,” Lidsky said. “But they would still have three full years of legal training.”
Though opinions vary, the consensus among members of the law community seems to be that students should have more training before practicing law, like the residency program for medical students.
“Why shouldn’t we require it in our profession?” Glassman said.