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Recent Grads, Like Obama, Think Third Year Needs Revamp

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 11, 2013 12:52 PM

A survey of recent law graduates found that, surprisingly enough, they were unhappy with the status quo of legal education.

Seriously, a shocker, right?

The survey's findings are somewhat in line with President Barack Obama's suggestions from a few weeks ago, though we're still wary of the unintended consequences of dropping the third year. The survey, done by our friends at Kaplan, polled bar review students on legal education reform, resulting in three significant takeaways:

  • Eighty-seven percent believe that the legal education system needs "to undergo significant changes to better prepare future attorneys for the changing employment landscape and legal profession."
  • Sixty-three percent think law school could be shrunk to two years without impacting the practice-readiness of new attorneys.
  • Ninety-seven percent agree that if a third year is mandated, that it should incorporate clinical experience in the name of practice readiness.
  • Eighty-seven percent of respondents gave their laws school an "A" or a "B." (Sidebar: Apparently, there were no Thomas Cooley students, as none of the respondents gave their school an "F.")

If you've been following the legal education reform conversation, all of these remarks should come as no surprise. The current system at most schools is three years of casebook learning, followed by graduation into a jobless industry with a load of student loan debt. Obviously, the status quo isn't working.

The real question is: what is the solution?

Shrink law school to two years, and you'll have schools hiking tuition and churning out graduates in two years, instead of three. More lawyers, with slightly less debt, and still with no idea how to practice is not the solution.

And is practice-ready even a possibility? The Wall Street Journal reports on University of Maryland professor Robert Condlin's paper, that argues that "practice ready" is unrealistic. He states, in part:

Law schools cannot revive the labor market, or improve the employment prospects of their graduates, by providing a different type of education. Placing students in jobs is principally a function of a school's academic reputation, not its curriculum, and the legal labor market will rebound only after the market as a whole has rebounded (and perhaps not then).

Exactly. A Stanford Law grad is going to have better chances at gainful employment than a Golden Gate School of Law graduate, no matter how similar the curriculum or the merits of the individual student. Employers play the odds, and higher-ranked and highly-regarded schools tend to have more qualified graduates (and by extension, more employed graduates).

And clinical work, while helpful, isn't a cure-all for our grads' ills. You may learn some basics of practice in a clinic, but it can't prepare you for the sheer variety of practice areas, difficult clients, other insanity that will come your way when you reach the real world.

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