I have been a bit neglectful of my blog lately, but thankfully President Obama gave us all some food for thought yesterday when he said law schools in the U.S. should cut down to two years instead of three to cut costs for students. Mr. Obama said students do most of their classroom learning in the first two years of law school and hypothesizes that the third year would be better spent clerking or working for a firm.
I agree with the President. Beyond some of the first year classes, particularly Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Research and Writing, I think most subjects can be learned independently by students. This view is based on my own experience and I could be neglecting some important classes here, but I believe that this view is supported by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Comment 2 of Rule 1.1 states:
A lawyer need not necessarily have special training or prior experience to handle legal problems of a type with which the lawyer is unfamiliar. A newly admitted lawyer can be as competent as a practitioner with long experience. Some important legal skills, such as the analysis of precedent, the evaluation of evidence and legal drafting, are required in all legal problems. Perhaps the most fundamental legal skill consists of determining what kind of legal problems a situation may involve, a skill that necessarily transcends any particular specialized knowledge. A lawyer can provide adequate representation in a wholly novel field through necessary study. Competent representation can also be provided through the association of a lawyer of established competence in the field in question.
In other words, if you can analyze a case, think critically, and write well, any subject of law is within “putting range.” Law students (judging from my own experience) learn these fundamental skills in their first two years of school and by working in between. For instance, at my former summer internship, I worked on an assignment dealing with land-use planning. I did, of course, take Property, but this class did not inform my understanding of the assignment at hand. I simply used my research, analysis, and writing skills, developed through school and my internships, to address the issue.
So, in a way, I feel a bit awkward beginning my third year of law school just days after President Obama declared that this year is practically a waste of time. And yet, I recognize that I have an opportunity to explore subjects in-depth that I would otherwise have to learn on my own. For example, I am taking an e-discovery class. While it may be an excellent intellectual challenge to learn all of the nuances of ESI on my own through Google and ICLE, I think I will have a more comfortable and thorough, albeit expensive, experience learning it in the classroom.
Regardless, I am looking forward to my third year and feel fortunate that I have the opportunity.