Obama: Reduce Law School To Two Years

President_Barack_Obama250px-Fast_food_universal_languageAfter leading an assault on civil liberties and privacy in his Administration (as well as blocking efforts to prosecute Bush officials for torture), President Barack Obama may just be the last person who should be giving advice on training lawyers. Yet, Obama told lawyers last Friday that he would like to see law school cut by one-third to reduce time studying legal principles and history. Of course, given the number of constitutional provisions that Obama has effectively negated, it may take less time to study the remaining laws after the Obama years. Before law schools follow his lead to a fast-food version of legal education, we need to ask what we want in our lawyers. The President would reduce legal training to a program slightly longer than current paralegal schools.

Obama told an audience at Binghamton University in New York : “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,” Obama said. “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, I have little doubt that an attorney carrying out the Obama policies could get by with even a year of law school. Indeed, you only have to read Article II according to Obama to understand that the president can basically do whatever he wants, including killing any citizens he deems to be a threat.

I have long been a critic of the push for a two-year law school curriculum. It is being proposed as a way to maintain revenue and application levels for law schools. However, it minimizes what is (in my view) necessary to train a fully informed professional in this field. I am highly critical of current programs that omit legal history and legal theory in the training of lawyers. Instead, many schools simply train lawyers like glorified accountants; people who know how to file actions but have little understanding of philosophy and purpose of the law. If the President gets his way, law schools would simply train to the bar exam like a trade school. Offering such courses as electives is nothing more than pretense. With only two years, students will barely have time to take basic courses of torts, criminal law, contracts, civil procedures, constitutional law, and other basic courses. These basic courses extend into the second year where students often take just one or two electives. The just of the time goes to evidence, administrative law, environmental law and the other fundamental areas of study. If you want to add a meaningful clinical experience (which most law schools are seeking to offer) that would cut down your academic courses even further or you would have to forego clinical courses.

Some argue that most lawyers do not use legal theory in their careers. However, this ignores that such training make for lawyers who understand not just the expression but purpose and history of the law. At issue is what type of lawyers we want in our society. The two year proposal represents a fundamental change — reducing lawyers to the lowest common denominator of education. The problem is that this factory approach to education will represent a short term windfall for schools and unleash a race to the bottom. In the end, all legal education will be cheapened and we will flood the country with even more minimally trained lawyers.

For the President to add his voice to this movement is a disgrace. It appears that Obama is not satisfied with the harm done to constitutional law and now advocates the reduction of legal training. His advocacy will have an effect on some bar members and presents a serious danger to legal education in this country. We are facing one of the greatest challenges to our profession in a century. We will either remain committed to the training of a fully educated lawyer or turn toward the type of trade school that the President seems to invite. Whatever we do, this is a conversation that should be confined to those who respect the law, not violate it. That would exclude our president from the conversation.

Source: Legal Times

51 thoughts on “Obama: Reduce Law School To Two Years”

  1. great, just when i have almost all of my required “law and order” episodes they lower the standards.

    dee dee dee

  2. What you Americans should do is make the subject of law an undergraduate pursuit like most of Europe. Medicine too. I never understood the point of a fluff undergraduate degree just to get into law (or medical school), then several more years. Let me see, $30-50k for the undergrad and another $70-100k for the law degree. You folks are insane.

  3. I remember a Barney Miler episode wherein two characters asserted that they were from the future. One of the tidbits of information they revealed was that there were no more lawyers, realtors handled all that, realtors handled most everything.

    It was funny then, but just give it time. Heck, constitutional law is practically obsolete already.

  4. Again, engaging you with your attitude would be fruitless. But thanks again for proving the observation correct.

    Good luck.

  5. “Why bother, JD? Your mind is clearly made up that you’ve been done a great injustice by your education because it hasn’t paid off in the spectacular fashion you seem to have expected. Your avatar says it all; bitter disgruntled law graduate. Your attitude does indeed suck. Good luck finding a way to ply your skills either in or outside of the legal profession.”

    Again, no response to the questions. Only ad hominems and non sequiturs predicated on a gravatar to guise this ‘holier than thou’ stance that questions of your arguments shall not be addressed, by rather merely brushed aside.

  6. Why bother, JD? Your mind is clearly made up that you’ve been done a great injustice by your education because it hasn’t paid off in the spectacular fashion you seem to have expected. Your avatar says it all; bitter disgruntled law graduate. Your attitude does indeed suck. Good luck finding a way to ply your skills either in or outside of the legal profession.

  7. Mike,

    “By cutting out the “frills’ of legal training, we also send the message that lawyers have no higher purpose than self interest. While despite a strong foundation in the law, so many in the profession are interested in naught but their personal glory, does not negate the importance of the effort to give all lawyers a sense of what the law could be, other than making a living.”

    Bingo.

    The potential money aspect of the profession attracts a lot of people who have no higher sense of purpose than making money and really shouldn’t be there.

    1. “The potential money aspect of the profession attracts a lot of people who have no higher sense of purpose than making money and really shouldn’t be there.”

      Unfortunately, this too has become true of medical and dental schools.

  8. If you think about it the Law should be a noble profession, yet it isn’t. It seems to me that the history, theory and evolution of “the Law” should be taught and taught early in ones law career. The Law should be the bulwark of any society, but too often it is merely a means to make a living, without a sense of “rightness” or purpose. Though I have few heroes that have guided me in life, one of those is Clarence Darroe and another is Jonathan Turley. This is not because either one was “super human”, but both of them have worked for a civilizing and just basis for human society. By cutting out the “frills’ of legal training, we also send the message that lawyers have no higher purpose than self interest. While despite a strong foundation in the law, so many in the profession are interested in naught but their personal glory, does not negate the importance of the effort to give all lawyers a sense of what the law could be, other than making a living.

  9. Gene,
    I agree that 3 years(or 4 years going at night) is barely enough to get the basics. However, they do have to find a way to make it more affordable and get rid of this huge student debt.

  10. “If more lawyers understood Constitutional Law and the history and theory behind it, maybe there would have been more public outrage over Bush and Cheney committing treason or Obama violating the Separation of Powers Doctrine in claiming the ultra vires power to execute American citizens without due process.”

    I don’t think it was a failing of the legal profession in those two instances.

    “Does legal education need more “nuts and bolts” in the training? Probably so. That does not change that ultimately knowing that history and theory you are so dismissive of is the red line in the bulwark against tyranny, but then again, you might not know or appreciate the full depth of how the usurpation of tyranny was only the foundation our country and essential in the legal system as intended by the Founders. The study of law is not just civil procedure, but jurisprudence and theory as well. The proper practice of law is informed by jurisprudence, theory and the philosophy behind them as well.”

    Well, I am not dismissive of the study, just this notion that it needs to be focus of the legal education despite the fact that most within the legal education will not benefit from it. And yes, the law is not in fact just the nuts and bolts, but rather has several elements to it. But like the elements, there are various persons who work within the law, and each has a role–as I have mentioned previously–and it is not the role of general practice attorneys to take on philosophical approaches to the law and question (outside of the scope of rules of prof. conduct) their client’s legal wants/needs. The vast, vast majority of lawyers do not make, and they do not make policy; they argue law.

    Moreover, there has been zero evidence put forth, by yourself or Turley, to support a ‘more con law – better constitutional protections’ nexus. What evidence is there, other than mere conjecture? Do you seriously believe that John Yoo had not thoroughly studied Con Law prior to the torture memos? The same for Holder prior to his legitimization of the drones program. I highly doubt that had they (and others) only taken _________ course, we never would have the Iraq War, Drones, Gitmo, etc.

    Also, the legal education has not evolved much over the past several decades, with changes more on the periphery. So I ask, when did this threat to the Constitution caused by insufficient Con Law study/training happen? Or perhaps even those well versed in Con Law know how to put forth arguments to justify actions that others might deem unconstitutional?

    “If you’re unhappy that your practice isn’t in a specialty or a lot more grunt work and less glamor and often less lucrative than “L.A. Law” led you to believe? Which indeed is what your frankly open bitterness seems to indicate? There are plenty of other jobs you can do with a law degree besides “cookie cutter” law, but if you think there is no value in legal training beyond simple mechanics of the business, I submit that you are sorrily mistaken.”

    Thank you so much for the career counseling, but I shall rely on those persons who actually know me as well as my career decisions/paths rather than some anonymous commenter on a blog.

    P.S. I have never watched L.A. Law.

  11. Next they will be accrediting Fred’s Mobile Law School operated out of the back of a van down by the Potomac River.

  12. Well, fungible isn’t the point, JD. Properly trained is. Law is a profession and like medicine and engineering, improper training – especially in the fundamentals – leads to slipshod work later that can harm others. You also miss the point on the value of a greater overall understanding of history and theory to the system itself. If more lawyers understood Constitutional Law and the history and theory behind it, maybe there would have been more public outrage over Bush and Cheney committing treason or Obama violating the Separation of Powers Doctrine in claiming the ultra vires power to execute American citizens without due process.

    Does legal education need more “nuts and bolts” in the training? Probably so. That does not change that ultimately knowing that history and theory you are so dismissive of is the red line in the bulwark against tyranny, but then again, you might not know or appreciate the full depth of how the usurpation of tyranny was only the foundation our country and essential in the legal system as intended by the Founders. The study of law is not just civil procedure, but jurisprudence and theory as well. The proper practice of law is informed by jurisprudence, theory and the philosophy behind them as well.

    If you’re unhappy that your practice isn’t in a specialty or a lot more grunt work and less glamor and often less lucrative than “L.A. Law” led you to believe? Which indeed is what your frankly open bitterness seems to indicate? There are plenty of other jobs you can do with a law degree besides “cookie cutter” law, but if you think there is no value in legal training beyond simple mechanics of the business, I submit that you are sorrily mistaken.

  13. Instead, many schools simply train lawyers like glorified accountants; people who know how to file actions but have little understanding of philosophy and purpose of the law.

    Truer words were never spoken.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  14. “Did you ever consider that another year could result in a different structure for a law education that not only isn’t as traumatic but would actually produce a better overall class of counselors more prepared for the reality of trial practice?”

    The length has nothing to do with the “trauma.” Moreover, let’s not fall into Turley’s trap of thinking years in education are fungible; they aren’t. Another year ‘might’ be beneficial, but that depends on what that year entails. If it’s another year in the classroom, then no, it won’t make for better counselors, given that legal counsel requires, in most instances, interactions of various types with clients, opposing parties, judges, and other professionals. In learning how to navigate those interactions, zero came from the textbook. I am in favor of keeping the legal education experience at three years, but making the third year an apprenticeship/clerking/similar hands-on experience (as well as reducing the cost from 3 to 2 years).

    But let’s remember Turley’s concern and the impetus of this discussion; Con Law as interpreted and applied by high ranking public officials. How many of the 40,000+ annual law grads do you think will be in roles Turley describes? I would hazard very few, yet his suggestion would broadly impact the legal education and those in it, even though students can, through their second years, take electives in con law, theory, and other topics he proposes would mitigate “harm” to the Constitution. Moreover, there are LLMs in Con Law. But not every students wants, and most won’t need, courses of that ilk because of the practice they will go into has no need for deep philosophical analysis of the War Powers Act and its derivation from the separation of powers doctrine.

  15. I see that such comprehensive education did nothing for Yoo, and his cohorts to come up with justifying torture. Think that another year of law school would have made any difference in their cases? So far, I can see nothing that resulted in making lawyers who have a real respect for the law in the current system.

    Hell here in Texas we have a lawyer who went out and murdered a DA and his wife, and an assistant prosecutor after having gone through a three year course of law school and being admitted to the bar. Seems to me that the three year course did not do him much good. Instead, I think that holding lawyers more accountable is the way to go, and making it easier to kick out incompetent, and crooked lawyers from the bar.

  16. LC,

    We see examples here every day that illustrate that Constitutional Law is quite easily and often misunderstood.

    jurisdebtor,

    You know the old saw, “The first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death and the third year they bore you to death.”? I’ll stipulate that going to law school, like medical school, is the academic equivalent of being thrown off a cliff.

    Did you ever consider that another year could result in a different structure for a law education that not only isn’t as traumatic but would actually produce a better overall class of counselors more prepared for the reality of trial practice?

    It sounds to me like you’re a little bitter about your choices. Good luck with that. I really mean that. No snark intended. There is plenty you can do besides be a trial attorney with a law degree.

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