Last year, as I was entering my second year of law school, I had an interviewer ask me about my thoughts on President Obama’s remarks about eliminating the third year of law school. My answer then, and now, is the same, I do not think an elimination of the third year is necessary, or even beneficial.
Last year my conclusion was based on the fact two years of law school does not necessarily equate to cheaper tuition, the problem that the shorter timeline is meant to solve.
This year, however, as I am experiencing my third and final year of law school, my response is based on the list of goals I still want to accomplish and opportunities I want to take advantage of during my time as a student. These are the reasons why I believe the law school third year is still important:
(1) An opportunity to take classes you did not know you needed last year.
I spent my 2L year taking classes that sounded fun and interesting, namely a lot of intellectual property classes. However, these classes did not prove to be very useful during my 2L summer at a large law firm doing insurance defense work. Now that I know I will be returning to that firm and doing a lot of complex litigation, I was able to choose classes for my 3L that will hopefully be more beneficial in practice (like Federal Courts and Insurance Law). Sure it is possible to learn the basics of insurance law while practicing, but I will probably have a host of other worries as I start my career, and being able to check one thing off the list gives me a little piece of mind.
For those students who do not know exactly what they will be doing after graduation, 3L classes are still important. It provides them the opportunity to either broaden their knowledge, making them suitable for a variety of positions, or focus their interests in a particular area, making them valuable to specific employers.
(2) A chance to do clinical work.
Law school clinics provide students with amazing opportunities to practice their skills for real clients with real problems. Although these opportunities are generally available for second year students as well, saving clinics until the third year may be beneficial. Second year students are unlikely to get as much out of clinics as third year students, who have hopefully had the opportunity to take classes such as trial advocacy and evidence, which form the backbone of much clinical work. Not only are clinics a great way for law students to hone their skills, they are also a perfect way to give back to the community, an important value which should take root in law school.
(3) Mentoring the younger students.
My first year of law school I was assigned a “Big Sib,” a second year student who could show me the ropes. Last year, I served as a Big Sib myself, doing my best to impart my wisdom on a new student. But last year I also had a lot on my own plate – leadership positions in student organizations, a full course load, and moot court. With fewer responsibilities and a better handle on law school this year, I have more time to be a better mentor. Without third year students, the rest of the law school would lose a valuable asset.
Third year students are also great mentors to second year students, who are likely nervous about summer internships and the job market. Having older students on hand to talk about these concerns with can help to assuage these fears. Third year students, who have spent two summers in the job market, can also be a great resource for younger students in finding and choosing an internship or post-graduate position.
(4) Time to meet more students.
By my third year of law school, I know pretty much everyone in my class – and by “know,” I mean I can put a name to a face. The number of people I am actually close enough with to know their interests and post-graduation plans is quite small. And this is not even counting the 2Ls and 1Ls. But the chances that I will work with, against, or for any of my classmates is high in the legal profession, especially in a city like Chicago. Taking the time to get to know more classmates will be beneficial in my legal career when I likely encounter them again. The third year provides a great opportunity to take a smaller class, participate in a clinic, or join a club or an intramural sport, to meet your professional peers.
Do you think these are persuasive enough reasons to keep the traditional third year of law school? What else should be done? Post your thoughts in the comments below.