One common suggestion throughout legal ed reform discussions is reducing law school from three years to two. The argument is that the third year is useless, so dump it. I should say right now that I don’t think it’s a good idea, not because the third year is useful but because cutting legal education down is an arbitrary solution. We should ask the inverse question, “How long should law school be?” instead of “How much should we cut?” Law school has two urgent problems: over-enrollment and excessive cost. Reducing it by a year does not address the former at all, and the problem with tuition isn’t just that it’s too high but that it’s perpetually increasing over the inflation rate. Eliminating the third year treats law school tuition like kudzu: At some point, it’ll just grow back. That’s not the only problem though; allow this stylized animation to illustrate:
Notice how cutting a year out of law school automatically dumps an extra class of law graduates onto the market. The 3Ls in this situation paid the maximum value for the worst job prospects, adding to the already existing bottleneck that’s omitted here. Many of these grads are certain to never find work as attorneys, and tens of thousands of new solo practices are just not going to work.
The counterargument is, cynically yet intellectually honestly, “They weren’t going to get jobs as lawyers anyway, so it’s just accelerating the inevitable.” Fine, but that just demonstrates that eliminating the third year doesn’t really solve anything. The same number of law students go in, and the same number come out without any long term improvement to the graduates-to-jobs ratio. It just deflates some of the law school bubble without requiring anyone to make the very tough choices, i.e. how to reduce enrollments (hint, closing and consolidating law schools and laying off unneeded faculty) and what to do with those students already in the system. This is a reason current law students should start taking direct action instead of waiting for the ABA to come up with a solution.