Two-year law school instead of three becomes possibility

By Christopher Hicks

As the government looks at ways to minimize college costs for students, the traditional law degree may soon receive an update.

President Barack Obama said Aug. 20 he believes law schools should consider cutting their programs from three to two years as a way to reduce college debt. The theory behind this idea is controversial among many within the legal community and profession. Some are calling into question how much experience students would receive preparing for the bar exam and whether students will be ready to practice law without the extra year.

Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, Mark Brittingham said the change could work but it may require law students to take summer courses. The type of things one learns in the field typically does not prepare them for the bar exam, he said


“Most student debt is acquired during the undergraduate career and more is piled on during law school without much regard to the return on their investment,” Brittingham said. “Imposing a two-year law school may or may not be cheaper than the current structure and format that is currently being used.”

John Erbes, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical & Experimental Education, said he likes the idea but it would force some law schools to restructure their curriculum, which typically involves field studies in the third year, in order to accommodate such a change.

“The idea is not very different on how many law schools are operating today,” he said.

Students also said they could see pros and cons with the president’s proposal.

Tom Drysdale, a third-year law student from Streator, said in theory the plan is a good idea but in practice it might have some problems.

“The problem I see with the proposal is that students may miss much needed knowledge that can only be acquired from the classroom in the third year that heavily prepares them to do well on the bar exam,” he said.

Many third-year law classes generally prepare students to do well on the bar exam. With the third year being cut out and students having field experience in the profession they may not do as well, Drysdale said.


Another student said two years could work, but students will have to be dedicated and responsible.

Shanna Crafts, a third-year law student from St. Peters, Mo., works as a law clerk in the Student’s Legal Assistance Office. She said working there really gives her great experience and prepares her for a future career in the legal profession.

“You enter the law field not really knowing what you are doing and learn as you go,” she said. “This time next year I will probably be as prepared as I am now.”