This flexibility may make legal programs last for two years or it may, as NYU professor Estreicher suggests, force schools “to redesign that third year to make it more relevant to what these students need.” If schools manage to do so, the third year will remain; if not, it won’t.
Could this ever happen?
I doubt it.
Universities, law professors, and the ever expanding group of university administrators have a vested interest in making sure that law school lasts three years. I don’t blame them – a contracted legal education will lead to fewer jobs for professors and administrators plus less money for universities.
They’ll be joined arm in arm by current lawyers. Those who have already finished a three-year J.D. would make law school longer and more arduous if they could. After all, when you’re in school you want graduation requirements to go down, the bar exam to become more passable, your classes to ease in difficulty – but once you’ve graduated you want the opposite, you want to pull the ladder up with you. Making it more difficult for new lawyers to enter the market increases the scarcity of current lawyers, shields them from competition, and, via the cold clockwork of economics, drives up prices and wages.
Ideally, the antidote to this sort of regulatory capture is an opposing interest group. Unfortunately, no such countervailing force exists. The natural enemies of three-year law school should be law students. But this doesn’t quite work out.
Let’s say that when I was a first year in law school my friends and I organized to lobby to change graduation requirements and accredit two-year law schools. We pooled our meager funds, organized marches, wrote op-eds, built coalitions with other interest groups.
And let’s say, miracle of all miracles, after a couple of years of advocacy our rag-tag team of underfunded, overworked law students (how did we pass 1L year?!) manage to get the American Bar Association to change the accreditations rules. Whoops! Too late for us; we’re about to enter our third year, and no, sorry, our law school is not about to alter degree-granting requirements for an already captive set of students. At this point, we rush back to the bar association, and say, no, no, just kidding. Two years, we now say piously, is much too short a time for aspiring lawyers!
The truth is that no group of law students will ever band together to advocate for meaningful change. Setting aside the legitimate question of time and resources, an interest group of law student will fail because if the advocated-for change ever comes, it will likely be too late for them.
The interest group that has the biggest dog in this fight is one composed of future law students: you know, history majors at liberal arts schools who are taking the LSAT “just in case.”
Problem is, organizing these lawyers-to-be is an all-but impossible task.