Monday, August 16, 2010

The Suggestion You've Been Waiting For: A Fourth Year of Law School

A tipster sent me this law review article, wherein the obvious is stated: Law School Grads are unprepared to practice law upon graduation. It proposes this novel solution: adding a fourth year to the Law School curriculum.  What?  Yah, you heard right.  Adam J. T.W. White thinks that this fourth year of Law School, and presumably the tuition costs associated therewith, would better prepare grads to do what the economy is forcing them to do: hang out a shingle.  Well, he's right.  It would.  But not if it became part  of the curriculum, i.e. something that you have to pay for.  When will the madness end?

I say, let's whittle down law school to one year and have one more year of practical training.  Isn't that a better idea?

Mr. J.T.W. (gee, how many middle names does a person need) White, makes some good points.  Only law graduates realize how ill suited they are to perform actual lawyering when they receive their beloved J.D.  I don't have to tell you about the sick feeling in your stomach when your second cousin Phil asks you to prepare a will for him, or your Uncle Jethro shows you a complaint for foreclosure after your graduation dinner... and you have to say, "I have no idea how I can help you."  
Mr. White writes:
...while law professors emphasized the theoretical approach to legal education and this approach thrived, the importance of practical training has received much less scrutiny and has been largely cast to the way- side. This leaves a gap between the legal education received by law students and the education students need to become competent practitioners—and this gap is widening.
Most law professors have no idea how to practice the law.  Did you ever hear that saying?  I forget how it goes, but something like this "Those who get "As" in law school teach, those who get "Bs" become judges and those who get "Cs" practice."  Well, most professors haven't practiced or only practiced for a year before their social ineptitude became so apparent that they are forced to scurry to the nearing Law School Mill and become part of the machine.  These professors are more comfortable with theory, and consequently teach theory.  The origins of mens rea doesn't teach you how to negotiate a guilty plea for a criminal client.  So, what about the ABA?  Shouldn't they see to it that Law School Mills create Lawyers, not just thinkers?
One of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) objectives for the program of legal education is that “[a] law school shall maintain an educational program that prepares its students for admission to the bar, and effective and responsible participation in the legal profession." However, it appears the ABA standards are much more tailored to bar passage rates than actually training students to be successful members of the legal community.
Once again, the ABA fails us.  Bar passage means understanding theory or regurgitation of law, but not effective representation of real live clients.  Law firms have and continue to complain about the lack of practical skills in the law school curriculum:
It is apparent that “the model in which senior partners line-edited their associates’ memos and the associates accompanied their partners to court for years before being given a case of their own to handle has become but a dim memory.” Schools have recognized that, especially in the increasingly competitive legal market created by the slumping economy, their graduates need to be prepared with practical skills, not just knowledge of legal theory.  This is because legal employers are not willing to pay large salaries to individuals who lack practical training.  The recent economic crisis has caused law schools to take notice of the gap in legal education and preparation for the legal profession, resulting in schools “revamp[ing] their curricula to prepare students for the realities of the legal profession. 
One pathetic attempt at "revamping" is offered by University of California at Los Angeles, that recently  started an LLM program that gives graduates the skills they would otherwise develop as new firm associates. FAIL.  Another degree, other than the J.D., just to learn what they failed to teach you in law school?  You must be kidding!

Mr. White draws comparisons between the Medical Profession and the rotations offered to medical students and the practical training offered by Northeastern, which offers three semesters of real life experience in the law.  Kudos to Northeastern, but that's only one school.

He also draws comparisons between the legal education systems of England and Canada, which incorporate training into becoming an attorney.  That would be great, except that we dilly dally with four years of undergrad first--a problem that amounts to large amounts of money owed before you can even support yourself in your profession.  As it stands, we are 25 when we graduate from school.  In England the "continuing legal education" stage of training takes 3 years before you become a full-fledged attorney.  That means that we'd all be pushing 30 once we'd be able to practice.  Is that acceptable?

Here's Mr. White's solution to becoming competent lawyer, rather than a J.D.:
The first, second, and third years of law school will remain unchanged.  The only major change to the educational system currently in place will be the addition of practice-based elements to the existing requirements.  The fourth year will consist entirely of real-world experience and will not contain a classroom component. This fourth year will be similar to the United States medical model and the English and Canadian legal models.  This new four-year model of instruction will expose students to the actual practice of law with direct oversight from an active member of the bar.  This new model will mandate that every student attending an ABA-accredited law school during their fourth year participate in either an in-house live client clinic or work for an LSC-funded program. 
Well, like I said.  Law School is too long as it is. We don't need the third year, and arguably half of the second. If this fourth year costs an additional year of tuition, I am adamantly opposed to it.  If this is included in the three years of tuition, I will entertain the idea.  However, as I said... it begs the question:  Why doesn't law school prepare you to be a lawyer?


  1. "Mr. White draws comparisons between the Medical Profession and the rotations offered to medical students and the practical training offered by Northeastern, which offers three semesters of real life experience in the law."

    The big difference between the two is that every student who successfully completes a medical residency will have a job; the proposed fourth year of practical skills wouldn't be such a scam if this were equally true of law school. The problem, as always, is not only the lack of practical training, but the lack of employment. Until schools act to address that--by reducing their own numbers, and the number of admissions--any other reformations will be pretty much irrelevant.

  2. Awesome post, Angel! Considering how much press scamblogs are getting today, I sincerely hope that the lies the law schools tell are beginning to be revealed to the public at large, and especially anyone considering enrolling in law school.

    Listen to Angel, folks, she's been there and she knows!

  3. As I have said in the past, the UK system does work. The trick is to have a "paid" matching residency set up by the school. It is a 1:1 match. The Lawschool can't take on a student unless they can he has a gtd match his residency year. This is why Lawschool will fight this idea. Few schools would be able to find paid jobs for 300 students. Most schools could find maybe 80 student jobs, but not 300. Without 300 tuition paying students, their business model does not work!

  4. What the hell does White think clinics are for? What most law schools need to do is add more clinics in a greater number of fields for 2Ls and 3Ls.

  5. They just need to strike the third year of law school, period. Absolute waste of time and money. If they want to add a third year of something practical, then great - but replace the "old" 3d year with the "new" 3d year.

    Or make law school 2.5 years, with the extra half being actual practice and business skills.

    There is no need to go to four years, except to further inflate rediculous profits at the schools - which is, of course, the point.

  6. Those who get "A"s teach, those that get "B"s work for those who get "C"s. Those that get "D"s become judges and the "F" students becoem rich.

  7. From an article I wrote a zillion years ago while at Cornell Law School - before my lifetime of unemployment. They weren't concerned about it then, and I suspect they aren't concerned about it now:

    :Students also have expressed a certain dissatisfaction in their preparation for practice. Hillman believes some of this may stem from publicity from lawyers denouncing law school professors for focusing on the theoretical, not the practical. He believes that law school is "doing its job" in preparing students for their careers. There are skills courses and the clinic program that focus on the practice of law, but as to the overall philosophy, Hillman said it may not be as important to teach skills students/future lawyers will learn in the first three to six months of their practice. "It may be true that law school doesn't prepare people for the practice in the short term, but it surely does in the long term," he added.

  8. The best thing, IMO, would be to revive the LL.B., awarded upon completion of a five year undergraduate program. The J.D. was only introduced in the 1960s and it has always been a cheesy, lightweight degree.

    The LL.B. would more likely be perceived as a tough degree, like a B.Arch. or B.S.M.E.

  9. A four year program would be awesome...if you spent four years actually learning law. But, just adding another year of bullshit isn't going to make anyone more prepared to practice law, except that they'll have a second 10 weeks of experience during their third summer.

  10. And this lovely article comes from the Florida Coastal School of Law, where the students need a fourth year of law school.

    Seriously, I'll go back and read their points later after I knock back one or two more, but law school is one big expensive prep course for the bar before you pay for the two month mini-bar prep course. I shouldn't have to spring for a third year of reading what South Dakota thinks of the UCC in relation to the sale of Commodore 64 computers.

    But I think that the forces that be can't let go of a third year. It admits that we don't need a third year, which draws a question about what we are actually getting out of school. The general public doesn't know that an 8th year doesn't make you any more prepared than two years of law school, but I'm sure that some outraged sector of the public will come forward with manufactured misgivings about what it means for the "standards" of legal care.

  11. The third year of law school would be best served with an apprenticeship/residency sort of model. That way when students graduate, they can draft a will, assist in foreclosure defense, and know that a court's local rules are just as important as the FRCP.

  12. Nice content .Do U have any such info about what are the guidelines that need to be followed for Medical school admissions procedure?

  13. It was nice to see comments about my article, I appreciate the open flow of ideas. By the way Angel, the J. stands for "Joseph" or my given middle name, and "T.W." are the initials of my best friend that died during my first year at undergrad. His death actually gave me inspiration to succeed, ultimately keeping me on the path to law school. So if you want to know how many middle names a person needs, the answer for me is two.

    Any other questions about the content of the article can be directed to

  14. AWwwww. So sorry for saying anything about it. What a great way to keep your friend's memory alive. I hope you write more articles about reforming the system... in different ways though! Less is more!

  15. If there were fewer years of law school, there would be more people going for their J.D. There is already a lack of legal jobs in the community. I think that if the people who wrote and commented on this blog got their way, they would find themselves even more disgruntled.

  16. Adam happens to be my brother. I must say that I'm quite proud to see an article authored by him get so much attention. Now for my small point. My fiance has just started her residency, and I can assure you that even though she took a year off of medical school to get practical experience in the field--where she traveled to developing countries and actually practiced medicine--without residency she would be completely lost. The idea of a fourth year, similar to the intern year in residency, would seem quite beneficial to a real-world neophyte lawyer. It should also be noted that residents earn a salary, underpaid as they are for the amount of hours worked. Now, if you consider a 4th year of law school, whereby the law student is practicing, wouldn't it make sense that they would also earn a salary. They are actually working, which is more than many law graduates can claim. I think this factor would clear-up quite a few of the reservations from the commentators.

  17. Clinics are a good idea, but why law schools actually TEACH HOW TO PRACTICE:
    1L should stay the same, socratic dialog, casebooks and legal research & writing.
    This is how 2L should be, for example Civil Litigation:
    1. No more socratic method & casebooks. You already learned legal research & resoning 1st year, time to move on.
    2. Pre-filing investigation, how to investigate the case, comply with Rule 11, execute retainer agreement, possibly negotiate before filing.
    3. How to write the complaint, respond to the answer.
    4. Rules on relevancy and attorney privilege, preparing privilege logs, doing document review.
    5. Using, and responding to, interrogatorries, RTA & document requests.
    6. How to take and defend depositions.
    7. Motion practice.
    8. Taking deposition testimony & discovery answers and turning it into a Motion for Summary Judgment; responding to one.

    Why can't damn law professors teach this during 2nd and 3rd year? My frustration with law school is that they wasted 7 years of my life (including undergrad) while teaching me nothing.

    Meanwhile real lawyers have to teach young associates and solos what to do before they commit eggregious malpractice.



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