Former constitutional law professor and current President of the United States, Barack Obama, has decided to wade into the great law school debate by offering his “thoughts” on the length of law programs. On Friday, Obama said that he thought law school should just be two years instead of three.
Great. It’s nice to know what the President thinks. Too bad those thoughts aren’t backed up with the very simple actions necessary to make his dreams come true.
Obama’s thoughts touched off a weekend debate about the value of the third year of law school. I think I’m clearly on record saying the third year of law school is completely useless. There is no educational value to the thing, but law schools certainly make a lot of money off of it. David Lat and I will be discussing this in more depth on CNBC’s Power Lunch this afternoon around 1:00 p.m. EDT. Check it out.
Regardless of what you think about the value of the 3L year, the timing of Obama’s announcement is certainly curious. In June, Obama’s own Department of Education rubber-stamped ABA oversight over law school regulation and accreditation for another three years. Since the ABA is the organization most responsible for keeping law school at three years and preventing schools from experimenting with shorter programs, I can only assume that Obama’s statement was timed to be as useless as humanly possible…
Back in June, I covered the Department of Education’s approval of ABA regulatory authority. Maybe Obama should have read that post. If Obama wants oversight over things like “how long does law school have to be,” he could have instructed the D.O.Ed to assume regulatory authority. Or at the very least, he could have had the Education Department signal to the ABA that its rules limiting experimentation with two-year law school programs needed to stop. Or he could have said something, anything, in June.
Instead, this is what Obama said on a Friday in August. From DealBook:
“This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck. I am in my second term, so I can say it,” Mr. Obama said at a town hall-style meeting at Binghamton University in New York. “I believe that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years.”
What the heck? I’m in my second term? Obama just told the ABA, “Don’t mind me, I’m just a lame duck who intends to spend ZERO political capital bringing about substantive change.”
If this were George Bush, I’d think he was too stupid to know that he could actually change things if he wanted to. But I think Obama knows exactly what he’s doing, or “not” doing, as it were.
I was just at the ABA annual meeting. There are tons of people who have interesting ideas on how to make law school quicker. At the meeting, the ABA made it a little easier for schools to apply for a “variance,” a special dispensation to try non-traditional programs, but it’s still very hard for a law school to do anything beyond the three-year, in-class approach to legal education. The distance-learning people are openly begging for more flexibility in how to offer legal education. But the ABA seems to think that its function is to retard flexibility and creativity, not to inspire it.
And we know why the ABA is on the side of three-year programs. It has nothing to do with the educational value of the third year. It has everything to do with the fact that 3L year represents a third of the tuition law schools are allowed to charge. Do you think anybody at the ABA would willingly allow competition that could result in a third of its revenues disappearing in a puff of smoke?
He can’t be that dumb. He must know that the ABA will never go along with two-year programs, he must know that the only way to make the ABA do it would be to threaten to take away its regulatory oversight, and he must know that the time to make that threat was June, not August. So he must have been full of s**t on Friday when he talked about law schools.
Obama Says Law School Should Be Two, Not Three, Years [DealBook / New York Times]