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December 2, 2006

Innovating the third-year: no standard classes?

Completely eliminating the third year of law school is one common, radical reform suggestion (often heard from current students and recent grads).  But it is not likely to ever get taken seriously: too much tradition and money supports the three-year law program to permit an industry-wide shift.   Consequently, anyone underwhelmed by the 3L experience ought to focus on innovation, rather than elimination.

Here's my idea: What if schools decreed that, after the 2L year, students could not earn any credits for graduation in standard lecture/exam law courses?  Instead, to finish up law school, 3L students would have to earn credits through non-standard courses like clinics, seminars, externships, classes in other departments, co-curricular activities, independent study, etc.  (A less ambitious, but still radical, approach would be to say that only half of 3L credits could be earned through standard lecture/exam law courses.)

Two key points drive this idea:

  1. Most students have little desire or reason to be very engaged in standard law classes as a 3L: two prior years have removed all novelty from the teaching format; future employment may already be secured; 3Ls are acutely aware of the disconnect between standard classwork and practice skills.
  2. Most law schools and professors will only develop and teach non-standard courses if students demand them: standard classes are relatively easy and fun to teach (especially if taught before); they are economical because many dozens of students can be served by one faculty member.

By requiring students to earn many or all 3L credits through non-traditional means, students would be forced to figure out what non-standard law school activities they would find interesting and rewarding as they finish up.  And law professors, in turn, would likely be pushed to develop more non-traditional courses and activities in order to serve student demands for a range of 3L options.

Posted by DAB (and cross-posted at MoneyLaw).

December 2, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink


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