Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sorry, I Must Have Skipped That Year

The New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece from Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, President Emeritus of George Washington University. Trachtenberg believes undergraduate and professional degree programs could be shortened in order to reduce costs to students and get them out into the workforce sooner. He cites Northwestern Law School, which has a two-year J.D. program, as well as Texas Tech, which offers a three-year M.D. program. He also proposes the idea of a three-year Bachelor's degree, which might include two full summer semesters to make up for the eliminated fourth year.

I agree with these proposals, particularly the idea of a two-year J.D. By my third year in law school, I had pretty much learned that being an attorney would take years of training and dedication, and that law school mostly just teaches you how to start finding the answers to legal questions. In fact, I think law students should complete an apprenticeship for their second year, in order to teach them what an attorney's job really is. Judging from the current law school model, a student might get the idea that attorneys regularly partake in esoteric discussions about "substantive due process" versus "procedural due process." In reality, most attorneys regularly engage in expletive-laced discussions about looming deadlines ("where's my fucking brief already?!) and gridlocked negotiations ("when are you gonna make me a fucking offer?).

Do you think students should be given the opportunity to earn their degrees in less time?
Image courtesy of healingdream.


  1. The current system seems to favor indigent clients because, in essence, the most ambitious students will discover that they need to gain practical experience by giving away their time during law school in exchange for experience. On the other hand, given that many law firms are competing for lateral hires right now with much smaller new-grad classes, it seems both inappropriate and dishonest to suggest that the current law school model meshes seamlessly with what employers want.

    That said, a J.D. is a doctorate degree, even if it's non-terminal. None of my friends who did PhDs in engineering could have graduated without doing some real-world research and design work, and it seems ridiculous that any law school could graduate a student without them having worked on anything other than one hypothetical case in a first year Research and Writing course. If the program stays the same length, an increased focus needs to be on clinical work. Better, though, would be a shorter curriculum, if only so the first year course material is still somewhat fresh for the bar.

  2. Good points! I know people who put off taking Civ Pro II and Con Law II just so the material would be fresh for the bar. (We had to take Civ Pro I and Con Law I the first year.) It is scary that there are some lawyers starting out who have never actually appeared before a judge or filed any motions or other legal documents with a court. I was fortunate enough to get into a clinical program my second year that involved court appearances, negotiations, and legal writing. Funny, that was sort of when I started to realize it wasn't for me. By then, I thought it would be a waste of tuition to quit, so I finished. A mistake, unfortunately, which cost me about $20K. Ouch!