04 February 2013

American Legal Education

Professor Stephen Bainbridge here raises a question that comes up on a recurring basis: why not make "law" an undergraduate major in American colleges and universities? To sit for a state's bar exam would thus require only four years of higher education rather than the current standard of seven.

Several not entirely random thoughts. First, the phenomenon of law in the contemporary Western context is extraordinarily complex. Law's complexity pervades even "simpler" legal activities such as divorce and consumer bankruptcy. Could a general four-year undergraduate degree adequately prepare students for the practice of law in hyper-legalized America? Yet, the argument lurking in this question raises another one: Does legal education as currently implemented--three years of post-graduate studies--prepare graduates for the complexity of basic legal services? If not, then why spend the extra years getting what four could equally well (not) provide?

Second, at least one legal system is moving in the American direction. South Korea no longer utilizes a four-year undergraduate degree plus an extraordinarily difficult exam for admission to its bar. You can read about The 'Americanization' of Legal Education in South Korea here, which describes a move to a four+three system to meet the demand for a higher degree of sophistication in legal practice.

Third. Perhaps the reform of legal education in India can be instructive. In the early 1990s the Government of India realized it need to increase the number of legally sophisticated lawyers to meet the demand for its opening economy. "National" law universities, formed outside static, bureaucratically controlled Indian university system, utilize a five-year undergraduate program. Go here to peruse the website of National Law University-Jodhpur, where I taught as a Fulbright scholar. Graduates of any of the 14 NLUs obtain two degrees: an LL.B and either a B.A. or a B.S. The nature of the additional degrees varies with the campus. NLU-Jodhpur, for example, provided a B.S. in science and B.A.'s in management or what amounts to political science in conjunction with its LL.B. The virtual elimination of non-major electives focuses the five years far more tightly than a typical American undergraduate program so those who complete the course of study are well-prepared to practice law in India. (Although even so Indian law firms want the NLUs to do even more job training.)

Back to Stephen Bainbridge. Legal education in American stands in need of reform. I doubt that a four year undergraduate major is the direction to go but something needs to change.

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