Former law professor Barack Obama makes the case:
“This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I’m in my second term so I can say it,” Obama said during a stop at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years because [….] in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom.”
In the third year, he said, “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.”
He continued: “Now, the question is, ‘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.”
The remarks apparently were made off-the-cuff, and no further details were available from the White House. But experts said the notion – although not new itself, as American law schools were two-year endeavors through the 19th century – is gaining traction.
Wow, I wish there had been a two-year plan when I was a law student. For one thing, 1998 would have been a lot more fun for me. I found some of my third-year courses interesting, and in a couple of cases (Wills, Copyright) genuinely useful. But I'd already decided by third year that I had no intention of practicing.
If I'd actually wanted to practice law after earning my JD, then my third year would have been worse than useless. I may have made other choices—clinics instead of content courses, for example—but I'd still have spent a lot of money without gaining a lot of practical experience.