More on the Two-Year Law School

Today, Berkeley and a number of other law schools offer specialized courses and activities in the environmental area.  For instance, this year at Berkeley, we’re offering Biodiversity Law, Energy Project Development & Finance Class, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law Writing Seminar, Environmental Law and Policy, Land Use Law, and the Law of Hazardous Waste, along with a field placement program.  Students can also work on the Ecology Law Quarterly, our environmental law review.  

It seems plain that two years provides less space than three years for these speciality courses. Today, the bar exam covers the first year courses, plus typically Corporations, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Professional Responsibility, plus maybe other topics such as basic commercial law or family law in some states. A lot of students also take building-block courses such as Administrative Law or Federal Jurisdiction.  That would leave limited time for specialty courses.  

On the other hand, students might be able to spend their third year doing environmental work in a private law firm, public interest group, or government agency.  That could make up for the missing speciality education. The unknown here is how much those entities would be willing to invest in supervising and training.  In running our field placement program, it turns out to take a lot of work to find placements where students will get good projects and close supervision.  Lawyers, whether in private firms or elsewhere, are in the business of practicing law, not educating law students.

One thing that doesn’t worry me is how the change would impact top law schools. Apart from offering larger LLM programs for students who want more specialization, they could easily expand their entering classes to use the empty seats and make up for lost revenue. Also, since students only have to pay for two years of school in order to get a degree, they could afford to pay more for each year.  So top schools might be able to raise tuition significantly. It’s even possible that some law schools would profit handsomely from the shift to two years.

It would be really interesting to see how all of this would play out. In general, I’m in favor of giving students, law firms, and law schools more options, so we can see how various forms of legal education/training would work out.  It does seem a little ironic, however, that at a time when law has become increasingly complex and sophisticated, we’re thinking about turning students loose with less of a legal education.

Reader Comments

4 Replies to “More on the Two-Year Law School”

  1. In Europe it used to take four years to get a degree in law when I graduated now it takes five. Putting aside for a moment that the cost of education is nowhere near to a US law school (yet I don’t think I missed quality – my professors were all top professionals in their area of expertise – nor fancy libraries), I agree that two years is too short to even get to the basics. Therefore, only those you can afford an LLM will get the education they need to be prepared and compete among their peers. Why are always those in the weakest position who have to be penalized in times of hardship? It’s also ironic given how much Obama insisted in the value (and benefits) of education in his campaign. Is this really the way to go?!

  2. Chiara said:
    “…It’s also ironic given how much Obama insisted in the value (and benefits) of education in his campaign. Is this really the way to go?!…”

    Dear Chiara,
    You make a very good point. There are many who are asking the same question.

  3. A two year law school would churn out more lawyers, yet it would require that crucial third year commitment to environmental law be a substantive part of that legal education. I, too, would wonder if the quality of the education would live up to expectations.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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