The plight of 3Ls

The 2014-2015 law school year is now in full swing. 1Ls are grappling with the strange new world of the Socratic Method and briefing cases. 2Ls are hoping to score some sort of job out of the fall interviewing season. And 3Ls are wondering just what the heck they’re even doing on campus. If, in fact, they are even on campus at all. ATL’s law school experts have designed this challenge to help determine how much you know about the realities of the 3L experience. Take the 3LOL ‘Challenge’ and find out what you know.

(This challenge is brought to you in partnership with our friends at CredSpark.)

Does your school offer Law and Finger Painting? I bet they would if you asked.

Don’t look now, but spring is right around the corner. Spring semester, that is. For 3Ls around the country, just a few classes stand between them and graduation into one of the worst legal job markets.

Ever since President Obama suggested that the third year of law school could be cut, we’ve heard a lot of law professors talk about how essential the third year of law school is. You can take clinics! You can become “practice ready”!

Sure, you can do those things. But it’s unlikely that you are going to take any course in your last semester of school that will help you get a job when you graduate. Why would you do that? You can be unemployed just as easily taking small, low-stress classes that won’t screw up your GPA on your way out of the door.

Every school has its own selection of ridiculous upper-class electives, but I’d like to focus on how the big boys do it. The Ivy League law schools have been setting the standard for legal education for generations. Their students (for the most part) have jobs waiting for them on the other side of graduation. I’ve put together a full course schedule for an Ivy-educated 3L. Please feel free to send this to any professor who thinks that the third year is too important to lose…

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High atop the ‘Ivory Tower’ of the Yale Law School, a legal academic defends never changing anything ever.

If I were going to write an Onion-style parody of a Yale law professor defending the third year of law school in an op-ed, I wouldn’t come up with what Yale professor Bruce Ackerman just dropped on the Washington Post. It’s too on-the-nose to be funny as fiction. It’s too “exactly what I thought he would say” to qualify as parody. For the love of God, the man starts his defense of the third year of law school by quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes. He doesn’t start with employment statistics or any analysis of economic value or even a new study about the value of higher education generally. He’s a professor at the Yale Law School, so of course we’re starting with Holmes.

Since I’m not making it up, since a Yale Law School professor actually did write an op-ed about the current state of legal education in which his first reference is to a man who died in 1935, it’s freaking hilarious. I mean, thank God we have Yale law professors to reanimate Holmes so he can weigh in on our modern debate. When I asked old Ollie what he thought about the value of a law degree during a time of stagnant legal employment and skyrocketing tuition, he just told me, “My, you speak so well for a Negro. Since I’m sure society has evolved much since my death, I’m probably not the right guy to ask.”

But let’s see what Professor Ackerman has to say…

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Tampa is lovely this time of year.

Hello from Tampa, Florida, site of the 2013 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). Elie Mystal, Brian Dalton and I have been attending some excellent panels, catching up with old friends, and making new ones (although some law school folks here have given Elie the stink eye).

Yesterday I attended an interesting panel entitled “Homegrown or Not: Lateral Hiring vs. Law Student Recruiting.” The important topic drew a standing room only crowd….

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A 3L in a ‘law-and-blank’ class yesterday.

“One of the well-known facts about law school is it never took three years to do what we are doing; it took maybe two years at most, maybe a year-and-a-half,” Larry Kramer, the former dean of Stanford Law, said in a 2010 speech. The continuing existence of the third year of law school is generally held to be one of the basic structural defects in our current legal education model, alongside the contracted job market and soaring tuition. There have been efforts to address the problem, the latest being NYU’s announced overhaul of its third year curriculum.

Yet these attempts to redefine what the 3L year means appear to many like half-measures at best, “lipstick on a pig” at worst. As we noted back in November, Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana/Maurer has made a sweeping proposal that calls for a special new program for 3Ls by a coalition of willing law schools. The 3Ls would embark on a skills-based, teamwork-heavy course of study in partnership with law firms who agree to employ the students, albeit at a reduced rate. Also, there is a proposal currently before the New York Bar that would allow students to take the bar exam after two years. These students would not obtain a J.D. unless they return for their third year, but would be eligible for a bar card.

In assessing the NYU proposal (basically an increase in study abroad and specialty courses), Professor Kenneth Anderson argues that law schools have allowed educational incentives (i.e., learning to how to be a lawyer) and credentialing incentives (i.e., becoming an attractive job candidate) to drift apart: “The problem lies in how very, very unattractive we’ve institutionally made [students’] incentives – and the price tag attached to what is essentially a bet rather than investment. It’s a bet with many more bad payoffs than good ones.”

All the discussion and debate about the three-year law school model focuses, understandably, on the utility of that third year. We thought it would be interesting to have a look at our survey data to get a sense of how the experience of law students changes over time. The ATL Insider Survey asks law students and alumni to rate their schools in academic instruction, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life. We wondered how, if at all, these perceptions differ between 1Ls and 3Ls….

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