A license to practice law in 2 years? Law schools mull options

January 24, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Legal educators, judges and practitioners are seriously considering a proposal to allow students to sit for the New York State Bar exam after two years of law school.

The measure was publicly introduced by New York University School of Law (NYU), and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has displayed interest.

“Two years might well be enough law school,” said St. John’s University School of Law Professor John Barrett.  There are many approaches to the idea of a two-year option for law students.

The most popular being discussed is that of NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher.  He proposes making the third year of law school optional, allowing students to sit for the bar exam after their second year.  In lieu of third year, students may opt to participate in an apprenticeship program.

Always a center for innovation, Brooklyn Law School (BLS) is currently looking into a similar option. The idea of a earning a law degree in as few as two years “is a very serious option,” BLS Dean Nick Allard told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “I expect that our faculty and our Board of Trustees will be considering a two-year proposal before the end of the semester.”

Under BLS’s version, students will be able to complete the law program and earn their juris doctorate in two years. This significantly differs from Estreicher’s proposal.  Under Estreicher’s plan, students would not earn a juris doctorate but will be able to sit for the bar exam and essentially serve as licensed attorneys.

“Under our proposed plan,” said Allard, “students will be able to obtain the same amount of accredited hours as a three-year juris doctorate candidate but in a shorter amount of time.”

BLS’s plan would not be available to everyone. “This is not a shortcut,” Allard noted. “This plan is for a special group of people who can take on the course load, are self-starters, and very directed hard workers.”

Lippman touted the two-year option as being economically beneficial to students. Citing the “lousy job market” Lippman doubted that there “is anyone on the law school faculty or on the bench who would say ‘This is crazy.’”

Kings County Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins agreed. “I think that a two-year curriculum of basic, required courses and one year of internships might be the right formula. I think that some compromise might work,” Kamins told the Eagle. “Medical schools have used this type of formula for years with great success.”

“Law school is cost-prohibitive,” said Merrick J. Brodsky, Esq., of Brodsky & Gordina. “Going to law school does not guarantee you a job, so an apprenticeship program would be more beneficial.”

Mark Hanna, a current BLS law student, concurred. “I am going to law school in the evening so I am in for four years. An apprenticeship would really be the best way to do it because you get more practical experience.”

Not everyone agrees. “Three years in law school is not enough,” said Wilson LaFauire, Esq. “Once you are in law school there are over 20 different legal subjects that you must learn. I do not see how reducing the amount of time in law school would be beneficial.”  

BLS alumnus Howard Jahre, Esq., said that the lack of jobs is the problem.

“Law firms are not hiring,” he said. “Apprenticeships are not the answer.”

Lippman admitted that the idea needs to fleshed out much more. “I don’t know the answer,” said Lippman. “I can say that we want to hear more. It is a fascinating subject.”

Robert Abruzzese contributed to this article.