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Do American Lawyers Need Less Law School?

Columbia Law School graduation at Columbia University in New York on May 14, 2010
Columbia Law School graduation at Columbia University in New York on May 14, 2010Photograph by Dennis Van Tine/Retna Ltd./Corbis

President Obama recently galvanized a national debate about the future of U.S. legal practice and education by suggesting that law schools could get the job done in two years rather than the traditional three.

The president, a former constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago and onetime head of the Harvard Law Review during his own student days, offered his seemingly offhand curricular amendment during an appearance at Binghamton University in New York last month. Aspiring attorneys, he argued, could cut soaring tuition debts and gain valuable work experience by heading off sooner into the real world of employment. “In the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom,” Obama said. “The third year, they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much, but that step alone would reduce the costs for the student.”