Obama Favors Law Graduate Underemployment, Poverty Wages

Okay I’m just being a jerk. Here’s the video from The Washington Post and the transcript:

This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck. I’m in my second term, so I can say it. I believe for example that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years. Because by the third year- In the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom. In the third year, they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student. Now, the question is, can law students- Can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year. My suspicion is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could.

I didn’t realize that law schools were so powerful that a first-term president would feel reluctant to advocate for two-year law schools. Curbing the Grad PLUS Loan Program is also apparently off the table.

The problem, though, is that ABA law schools don’t have a say on the 58,000-minute curriculum, 45,000 of which must be in the classroom. However, if the proposed accreditation changes I discussed recently go into effect, it’ll be “83 credit hours, 64 of which must be in courses that require attendance in regularly scheduled classroom sessions or ‘direct faculty instruction.'” If 15 of those 64 credits can be completed by distance learning, which means hitting the mute button on your PC and banging 15 credit hours’ worth of chords on your guitar, that leaves 49 credits that must occur in the classroom. If that’s 12.5 credits per semester, that sounds like two years in class and one year out. So, maybe law schools in the future can pull this off.

Changing the third year to clerking, a topic I don’t think I’ve discussed, isn’t necessarily going to be cheap for students. Law schools can use their market positions to charge students for firm placement, wiping out any monetary gains to the students.

Can law schools maintain quality and professors? Who cares as long as the students are paying for the privilege of working for a federal judge or prestigious firm? There might be a push to shut down schools that can’t place students, but many will just charge students to work for school-funded positions, or worse, they might offer firms kickbacks for employing their 3Ls.

Okay, I might be unfairly cynical, but if we’re hoping the market, which has worked so well until now, will equalize the number of law students with the number of 3L pseudo-articling positions, then the best result could just be cheap labor for firms and judges, then ejection from the profession for the majority of graduates who don’t make the cut. If elite clients are less willing to pay elite firms top dollar for grads today, then I doubt they will for 3Ls.


  1. Matt
    I was hoping he was going to do something politically courageous — like shutting off the spigot of unlimited federal student loans and making law schools accountable for post-graduate employment.
    – Mo

    1. Maybe he needs a lifetime appointment, like to the Supreme Court, before he’ll feel comfortable enough to say something “controversial” like that. Then again John Roberts, C.J. taught New England Law | Boston students who were studying abroad in Prague this summer, so there might be a disincentive to tell it like it is.

      1. Wouldn’t surprise if he goes back to teaching — like at one of the Ivies.

  2. For f***sake I am sick and tired of the inability of policymakers to grasp simple concepts.. For instance; let’s say a law grad has $120,000 in loans, but cannot find meaningful work or work that pays “enough” (a general term, but I am not in the mood to generate a working definition right now). How does trimming $40,000 (just taking away the third year and assuming the law student does not incur more debt) increase the employment situation . . .

    Oh wait, that’s right, it doesn’t.

    1. True, but in his defense, it’s not like Obama knows much about job creation and wage growth. We should be thankful he touted the two-year J.D. at all. Who’s going to hire a two-term president who stokes such controversy?

      1. “Who’s going to hire a two-term president…”


        Those Portugese Water Dogs don’t feed themselves…

  3. The path is clear. 5 years from now 2 year law programs will be so expensive that 1 year programs will be on the discussion table. Then 6 month programs. Then the ABA will eliminate any formal education requirements and approve the law firms selling certificates after a single summer internship.

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