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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Pay No Attention To Fantasy Island Law School Alumni
Posted 11:34 AM by Brian D.
Now a corporate lawyer, Jennifer Leong fondly recalls her third and final year of
law school.
A job secured, she traveled frequently. Her courses included
feminist jurisprudence and a half-semester bankruptcy seminar - each carefully
chosen to get her weekend started by Wednesday afternoon.

"A lot of beer and softball," recalled Leong, who got her University of Virginia law degree in 2000. "Third year was probably the best year of my life."

I don't know anyone around here who had such a carefree and fancy lifestyle at this school. Maybe someone did, but everyone I knew was working their tail off their last year in school. Some people, maybe 15% or so, were fortunate enough to have a job already secured. More power to them, but even those people were trying to finish up classes, clinics, and internships considered so important most people believe they should be required.
Some educators want to see the third year beefed up, arguing the law is more
complex than ever and future lawyers need more preparation, both for the bar and exam and for their careers. But others want it dropped.
Critics say there's so much law that students will learn most of it on the job, anyway. They see the third year as a revenue racket, a full-employment scheme for faculty that comes at the expense of non-elite school students and discourages them from taking public service jobs.
It's a periodic debate in legal education, and with tuition going ever higher, there are signs it's heating up again.

Ah yes the "In the third year they bore you to death" argument. Admittedly how you schedule your classes throughout your academic career is a chess game. You should be planning the classes you want for next semester, but also for the next year. If you're smart you can schedule classes that are interesting, possibly even fun, for your third year. I'm not willing to concede the third year isn't relevant just yet. The American Bar Association has standards on the education of future lawyers, but the ABA is allowing more flexibility on how to achieve those standards.
That prompted the University of Dayton to announce a program starting this
fall designed to help students earn a J.D. in two years, including summer work.
It has no fewer requirements and doesn't charge less, but it saves students a
year of living expenses.
Dayton was trying to reach out to students like Melinda Warthman, a 33-year-old mother of two who will start the program next year. . . .
"I think for a lot of people looking at law school, they read the requirements, it's sort of off-putting," she said. "If you're married and you have a mortgage and you have children and you have a job, that just seems like, 'That's not something I can do right now.'"
But two years of school, instead of three, is a sacrifice that Warthman thinks she can make. Dayton officials predict other schools will follow their lead.

More flexibility on how to obtain a degree is usually a good idea. I'm sure the night students appreciate that or else they would have to give up their current jobs to attend school full time. I'm sure some students would like the option of getting out in only 2 years or so if they could. One less year of living expenses assigned to a student's debt load is always a good idea. "[I]t could encourage less-indebted new lawyers "to pursue some ideal other than the highest pay," said Harvard Law School graduate William Strauss, who has spoken out against the third year. According to the ABA, the median debt for 2004 graduates of private law schools was $98,000; at public schools it was $67,000 [Ed. I believe those figures to be quite accurate]. The organization has concluded two-thirds of law graduates cannot afford to take lower-paying public interest jobs."

Do you get the feeling that is why so many of law students end up embracing the chase of the almighty dollar? I know many classmates who believe a lower paying public interest job would be more fulfilling on a personal level, but are concerned about their Indianapolis 500 Pace Car sized debt. I know classmates that have achieved the dream that many student believe in. They secured a job a BIGLAW to earn BIGPAY in order to have a good financial future for themselves and their family while paying off loans. To quote one to the best of my ability, "I know I'm going to not like the work because it'll be in areas I don't care about, but I need the money just to pay off this place [referring to the law school]."

Maybe at some schools or with some students the third year is no big deal. In a survey of third year students conducted by Harvard Law professor David Wilkins and UCLA law professor Richard Sander "[a]bout two in five agreed with the statement "the third year of law school is largely superfluous."" Did that survey come here? I'm just curious. I wonder if the survey was conducted at non-top tier schools if the results would be the same. "For Jennifer Leong, however, it was a heck of a good time. She says some of her classmates worked hard, but many did not. As for the debt, she says, "once you get past the $40,000 barrier, what's another $20,000?""

If you're an incoming first year reading this blog I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I'm sure Jennifer Leong is a fine corporate attorney and the ability to find some enjoyment in law school should not be underrated. You need to find some fun people and fun activities to keep going. Just don't come in with the impression that your experience will be like her's. You're going to spend 3 to 4 years of your life in school. Make sure the investment of time, money, and personal sacrifice is worth it. I also suggest you don't buy into the illusion that you get after reading all those How To Survive Law School books that most incoming students, including myself, read before attending school. Those books are not written by the typical student at typical schools. Most likely your experience will not be like the author's or Jennifer's. Those experiences are not the best yardstick to measure yourself against. That is one reason why I chose this school to attend. It is much more of a real world school in attitude, not Fantasy Island.

As seen in the
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