A New York law school reform claims to be beneficial, but may not be as successful as hoped
Recently, members of the law community in New York proposed making the legal reform necessary to allow law students to take the bar exam after two years of law school, rather than the usual three. In this proposed change, students would have the option to attend their third year; if students passed the bar exam after their second year, then they may forgo their third year and seek a job. Proponents of the legislation have offered many arguments in favor of this reform.
One of the foremost reasons is financial. According to the National Law Journal, tuition at private law school currently averages $40,585, while public law school averages about $23,590. In 2011, the average debt at a private law school was $125,000, while at a public school, the debt was $75,700, according to the American Bar Association. With such daunting figures, the objective of this proposition is to reduce student debt and encourage more low-income students to pursue law by allowing them to complete only two years, and saving them the cost for that third year. The proposition, then, would decrease their financial burden, according to the New York Times.
Another rationale, according to the New York Times, is that students can learn all the necessary information their first two years of law, and, therefore, the third year become unnecessary. In general, there has been debate for years about the true benefit for the third year of law school. Proponents of this legislation argue that now law schools would have an incentive to make the last year of school compelling to encourage students to attend their third year.
While at first glance the idea seemed quite appealing, I cannot support the reform for a number of reasons. In a debate published in the New York Law Journal, one of the main concerns with this reform idea is employment prospects — whether or not employers would look down upon a student who has completed two rather than three years of law school. It is great that students would be done with law school earlier, but if their job prospects are lower — especially in a profession that is not as stable as it once was — then the proposition would not ultimately be effective in helping students deal with loans. As noted in the New York Law Journal, law students who graduate in two years might find employment but not positions at high paid large law firms, limiting the opportunities provided for these students. For example, if a firm has to choose between three-year versus two-year law students, chances are that the three-year law students will be preferred. Furthermore, if one of the objectives for this proposition is to encourage low-income students to pursue law, then if these students do graduate in two years, they still would not have access to high-paying jobs. There is significant chance that these students would be paid less. Such circumstances would hinder the two-year law students’ abilities to pay back their law school loans. As a result, there would still be an economic disparity, despite the intention to reduce it. All of this is highlighted by the fact that students would not receive their J.D. if they chose to forgo their third year of school.
Furthermore, Professor Brian Tamanaha at Washington University in St. Louis remarks that if large numbers of students skip their third year, then law schools could take other measures to ensure revenue thereby overriding one of the main rationales for the proposition. Perhaps law schools will further increase their tuition or implement some sort of an additional fee. If reducing the financial burden of law school is a concern, then action could be taken by law schools to increase financial aid for law students, or cut back on the constantly rising tuition costs for law school.
The intention behind this proposition is good, but I do question the effectiveness in how popular it will actually be and in its ability to achieve its objectives. There needs to be greater research conducted to really measure out the pros and cons of this idea. I like the proposal’s idealism, but its possible drawbacks keep me from supporting it.
_Fariha Kabir’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at