The Debate About Getting Rid of the 3rd Year of Law School


In the United States, lawyers are required to earn a college degree and spend another three years of graduate study in law school to earn their Juris Doctor or J.D. degree. The three-year J.D. program provides students with an outstanding and extensive education to prepare them for their legal career.

However, many students and educators lament the duration of the program, saying that the final year of the program – after two years of classes and internships – may not be necessary anymore. Legal historians have pointed back to successful apprenticeship models and examined proposals such as increasing the use of para-professionals or having a bifurcated bar.

Hence, there is an ongoing debate about reforming or abolishing the 3rd year of law school. Which side are you on?

The Pros of Getting Rid of 3rd Year of Law School

Reforming or totally abolishing the third year of law school can enable students to take the state bar exam after only two years of law school, instead of the required three years. This means that if a student is truly capable, he or she can officially become a barred lawyer in just two years of studying and training. As the old saying about law education goes, "in the 1st year, they scare you to death; in the 2nd year, they work you to death; and in the 3rd year of law school, they bore you to death." If the final year of law school has nothing so much as to offer to students, then perhaps it should be eradicated.

Another benefit of getting rid of the 3rd year of law school is cutting the cost of another year’s tuition and, thus, the debt load of graduating students. Attending law school is quite expensive, as the estimated cost (including cost of living) at the top law schools is at over $80,000 per year.  If, after the 2nd year of education, students can already take the state bar exam, they can save one year of tuition and living expenses.

The Cons of Getting Rid of 3rd Year of Law School

At most law schools in the US, the entire 1st year is comprised of the standard offering of required courses since Christopher Columbus Langdell implemented that system at Harvard Law School. At many law schools, the 2nd year only allows for minimal exploration of legal interests because of graduation requirements. The 3rd year of law school curriculum, on the other hand, is filled with research, electives, teaching assistant positions, moot court, and mock trial opportunities. Getting rid of the 3rd year of law school would then mean that all of these classes and activities would have to be stuffed into the second year curriculum that is already filled with research papers, clinics, journals, and more. Law graduates might end up having much less specialized knowledge than they would otherwise have had.  Can an average law student handle the additional required courses in the 1st and 2nd year if the 3rd year is to be reformed?

In addition, law students may truly need a final year to reflect, catch their breath from all the hard work, explore different paths, and prepare for the bar exam.

What is your stance in the debate? Are you for or against getting rid the 3rd year of law school? As an aspiring law student, these are exactly the types of issues you should be considering and weighing in on because such changes will end up affecting you the most. If you have not yet completely decided to apply to law school and need further advice, schedule a consultation with our law school admissions experts to help you weigh your options and make the right decision.

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