Last week, Ron Friedman of Prism Legal put a poll on Twitter asking whether law school should be 2 years or 3 years, and if 3 years, should that 3rdyear offer more “practical” training. 60% of respondents voted for “Keep 3 but more practical.” The next highest option with 25% thinks it is time to provide a 2-year option. Only 4% think the status quo is just fine. (I voted for 3 but more practical.)
In light of last week’s blog post What is Law School For?,I’ve been thinking about the Ron’s poll. Should we actually be debating 2 years or 3 years? Why does law school need to be a graduate degree at all? Why can’t law school be an undergraduate program?
Other than, “this is the way it has always been done”, is there a benefit to keeping law school as a graduate program? I’m not sure there is. The two arguments I can come up with are 1) there is a benefit in the undergraduate degree and 2) there is a benefit being slightly older when starting law school and practice.
Let’s look at both of these arguments.
- Do the vast majority of law students need their History, Political Science, English, American Studies, Philosophy, or [insert other liberal arts major] degree to excel in law school? Based on my experience, the answer would be no. The first year of law school is kind of like military boot camp. They break you down and remake you into a person who can “think like a lawyer”. My political science degree meant squat in law school.
- Is there an advantage to having “older” law students? Perhaps maturity, previous college-level study, and more work experience make better law students. I don’t know if that’s true and can’t find evidence to say it is or isn’t. However, I do know that in most countries legal education can begin at the undergraduate level. At the end of undergraduate study, the student receives their Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) or an equivalent degree. In certain jurisdictions, additional training or education is necessary before one can practice law. However, in countries like Australia, the U.K., New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, and India you can start working toward your law degree after high school. In fact, the United States and Canada are the only common law countries that don’t offer an LL.B option.
Here is what I’m thinking. Colleges and universities would still have “law schools”. The ABA could still regulate them. They can even require prospective students to apply to the law school itself. If we go with the 2-year option, students would go to “law school” full-time during their Junior and Senior years. For those who think 3 years of law school is still necessary, then our esteemed institutions of higher learning could set up a 5-year program similar to pharmacy schools in the United States. In fact, in an effort to improve the legal system, India has established a 5-year undergraduate degree program at specialized “national law universities” to confer law degrees.
What’s the benefit?
Making law an undergraduate degree would solve one big problem: student loan debt. You wouldn’t have to take 3 years of additional student loans to pay for law school. According to Student Loan Hero, the average undergraduate student loan debt for the class of 2017 was $39,400. The average combined undergraduate and law school debt is $140,616. I know lawyers tend to be math challenged so that’s $101,216 more debt.
Other benefits: Not only would you lower your debt, you would start working earlier in life increasing your earning potential over a lifetime. I would also like to think that we would see more diversity in the law if we didn’t require an expensive undergraduate degree prior to getting an expensive law degree.
Seriously, why does law school need to be a graduate degree? Is it an age thing? Or is it an elitist thing, like lawyers are special/better/can charge more because we have expensive graduate degrees? I’m guessing it’s a money thing. Or is it something I haven’t thought of yet. (Probably.)
I (obviously) don’t have all the answers so I want to hear your thoughts on this week’s question. If you have an opinion, please let me hear from you in the comments below. You can also tweet at me on Twitter at @lawducate or find me on LinkedIn.