Home / General / Law professor advocates requiring law school to be four years instead of three because there’s a lot more law these days

Law professor advocates requiring law school to be four years instead of three because there’s a lot more law these days


Is joke yes?


[T]here is today much more law to learn than there was in the past. There are today whole new fields of law which did not exist a generation ago, e.g., health care law. Moreover, within pre-existing areas of the law, the amount of law has expanded enormously over the last two decades.

Consider, for example, the area in which I write and teach, taxation. No one doubts that the current tax law is more complicated and extensive than the taw law in effect when I went to law school. Important subspecialties, e.g., pensions, partnership tax, and international tax, have grown in complexity and importance.

Many critics belittle the substantive business of legal education by dismissing my tax courses as theoretical or doctrinal. But my courses are where my students learn the law and there is much more law to learn than there was a generation ago.

I don’t even . . .

Compare and contrast: More books are being published than ever before. We should therefore require every elementary school to spend more time teaching people to read.

On top of everything else, this guy is a tax law professor! If there’s a single area of law where it should be obvious that teaching people the minutiae of the current legal rules makes about as much sense as forcing people to memorize current phone numbers, it would be tax, where the substantive rules are constantly changing at a dizzying pace.

But wait, there’s more:

The most serious argument against a fourth year of law school is the additional cost it would entail. Legal education is already too expensive. Adding a fourth year would impart even greater urgency to task of controlling the expense of law school, just as there is currently great urgency to the task of controlling the costs of undergraduate education.

As a practical matter, this adds up to arguing that law school is too expensive, so let’s reform it by making it more expensive.

Two features of this sort of thing leave my mind especially boggled:

(1) The complete absence of even a gesture toward the need to engage in some sort of actual cost-benefit analysis. The argument for adding a fourth year of law school must be based on the premise that the marginal value of a fourth year of law school for law graduates would be greater than the marginal cost (For obvious reasons neither Prof. Zelinsky nor anyone else is going to be willing to defend this proposal on the grounds that it would be good for law schools). But the author clearly feels no need to make such a gesture. The law school reform movement is often criticized for being anti-intellectual, but it would be difficult to imagine a more pseudo-intellectual atmosphere than one which generates arguments of this type.

(2) The apparent pointlessness of this sort of proposal. Individual law schools are of course already free to add a fourth or fifth or tenth year of law school if they wish, but they don’t, because almost nobody is going to pay for a four-year JD degree if they don’t have to (this is just another way of saying that, without enforced cartel pricing, the market for four-year JD degrees remains completely non-existent, because almost nobody believes that a fourth year of law school is going to be worth the price).

So the four-year law school can’t come into existence without a rule requiring it issued by process that would include the ABA promulgating such a rule, and state bar associations assenting to the new ABA rule (This is how the three-year law school requirement was created in the 1920s. Prior to then there were many two year law schools, although as the ABA noted at the time, these schools tended to cater to the Irish Italians Jews working people the kinds of students that lowered the overall quality of the profession.)

The odds of such a rule being promulgated can be safely calculated as less than zero. So what is the point of this sort of thing? I suppose the answer has something to do with psychology of professional identity maintenance, or something. . . Commenter Bloix makes the perceptive observation that the real function of this kind of argument is as a sort of Overton Window strategy. Whether such strategic considerations are considered consciously by their authors is another interesting question.

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