A couple of years ago those who predicted radical changes to legal education were seen as crackpots. That might be starting to change. A panel at NYU Law School discussed the idea of having students take the bar after their second year. The proposal was well received:
Many agreed that the third year is useful but not crucial. One panellist, Zachary Fasman, a partner at Paul Hastings, a big law firm, announced that he would happily hire eager and talented lawyers with just two years of law school, though colleagues might not. Others pointed out that the first year of work could be in effect an apprenticeship, during which the rookie would earn less and be billed to clients more cheaply. Law firms already have to train new hires on the job anyway; even three years of education does little to prepare lawyers for actual practice.
We think there are probably plenty of other programs that could also benefit with less school and more work too.
The reason American higher education drags on for so long at such a high cost is partly because American secondary education is such a disaster: low expectations, weak curricula, and all around mediocrity are the ways of most American high schools. A more aggressive approach to secondary education, with more “early college” programs in which high school juniors would earn college credit and finish their BAs two years early would make the whole system much less cumbersome and expensive. That system, plus a two-year law program, would get students into the legal profession at the same age they now finish the BA. These same reforms could be carried out in dozens of other professional and vocational training programs.
Cutting the mush out of the American educational system is one way to keep the cost of education down to levels that middle class families can reasonably afford. On the whole, Americans need to spend fewer years in school and use the time they do spend there more effectively. Oxford and Cambridge give BA degrees in three years, and people don’t complain about their graduates’ illiteracy compared to graduates of our clunky colleges.
After a long period of stagnation, American higher ed is waking up to the need for change.