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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Making Law School Optional
Posted 7:05 PM by Joshua Claybourn
A recent article in the Legal Times is titled, "Law School: Make It Optional? Why is a Mercedes Education Necessary for a Lawyer Seeking a Corolla Legal Practice?"
Why are law schools everywhere in the United States basically the same? Why do they all require three years, rather than one or two? Why do they all have big libraries that cost $4,000 or so per student per year? Why do they all hire mainly expensive, full-time faculty, rather than much cheaper part-time teachers?

The answer is that the American Bar Association's accreditation standards require these conditions, and almost all states demand that students graduate from an accredited law school before they can become lawyers. The ABA responds that all the requirements are necessary to train students properly and to protect the public from law schools producing incompetent lawyers.

The ABA's standards, however, may protect less the public interest and more the interests of the many law professors, law librarians, and practicing lawyers who serve on the ABA's accreditation committees. The law professors and librarians have an incentive to extend law school as long as possible so that more professors and librarians must be hired, and to require the hiring of full timers like themselves.
In an interview with Indiana Barrister, Judge John D. Tinder offered his own view of how he would change legal education:
J.D. programs should be four years in length for students who will practice law, with the first two years involving academic courses, much as they are taught currently, and the last two years involving principally clinical experiences under the supervision of carefully selected lawyers and judges. I think law schools should look to medical schools to design a program more like the medical model where an internship is a requirement for graduation for students who will practice law. As our legal educational and bar admissions systems now work, a law school graduate who passes the bar is permitted to handle a death penalty case or a multi-million dollar transaction before the ink is dry on the admission certificate. I think we ought to find a way to transition from the academic world of law school to the pragmatic challenges of the practice of law. This would require the involvement of practicing lawyers and judge, but that is done at medical schools with practicing physicians, so it can be done. If a student attends law school for the pure academic experience and will not practice law, three years of academic classes without clinical experiences may be enough (or too much.) But for those who will have the responsibility of handling the legal affairs of clients, or who will serve as judges, there ought to be a mandatory emphasis on the practical, ethical and interpersonal dilemmas that they will face in the legal profession. While it might take longer to accomplish a program like this, I think it would better qualify law school graduates to enter the practice of law, and I also think it would be a good think to link practicing lawyers and judges to the education of aspiring lawyers.
Perhaps it is simply idle banter, but I've read a growing number of commentators calling for something more similar to that called for by Judge Tinder. The opportunity for "real world" experience in an apprenticeship is enticing for those who feel law schools have not kept up with a dynamic legal profession.

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