Epstein on the Call for Two-Year Law Schools
The long-simmering dispute over the length of legal education has just received a new voice now that President Obama, who for many years taught law on a part-time basis at the University of Chicago, has voiced his tentative support for a two-year legal education.
This movement has been spurred by two related facts. The first is the real cost pinch for law school graduates. The second is the common perception that the basic skills of a lawyer are largely learned in the first year, after which the rest is mostly icing on the cake -- a luxury that most people cannot afford. In support of this last proposition it is commonly said that Abraham Lincoln did not turn out so badly even though he never attended law school at all.
That argument actually helps explain what is wrong with the argument in favor of the two-year law school. The huge explosion of statutory materials and the ever-larger volume of complex litigation in the modern era makes it odd that the three-year legal education went unremarked upon in the past, yet comes up today when there is so much more information that has to be learned.