President Barack Obama weighed into the specific requirements for a law degree last Friday when he said he wanted law schools to drop the requirements from three years to only two.
“This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck. I am in my second term, so I can say it,” Mr. Obama said at a town hall-style meeting at Binghamton University in New York. “I believe that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years.”
He went on to say he felt the third year would be more beneficial for students if instead of learning in a classroom they were to get real-world experience.
“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 costs for the student.”
While the statements may seem shocking, surprisingly the idea has long had support among college professors.
“We academics toil in the wilderness,” Samuel Estreicher, a professor at the New York University School of Law leading a movement to permit students to take the bar exam and practice after two years told the New York Times. “It is great to have the president join the cause.”
While the idea may appear to have some merit, critics have expressed skepticism over the president’s suggestion saying the material presented in the third year generally deals with specifics of constitutional law which is important for students to know. They note that while knowing the ins and outs of the courtroom as well as specific laws on the books is important, it secondary to the Constitution, which is the foundation for all laws passed in the country.
The remarks came as part of a recent move by Obama to attempt to curb student loan debt by pressuring colleges to reduce their tuition costs. Additionally, law schools are matriculating a greater number of law students who find themselves entering a field that is overpopulated with attorneys and facing a dual problem of student debt and a difficult job market.
The president acknowledged that eliminating a third-year would create challenges including hurting the finances of the law school and its ability to maintain and retain a strong faculty.
Now, the question is,” the president said, “Can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year? My suspicion is, is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could.”
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