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The Eternal Debate: Should Law School Be Two Years?

Every year or so, a major news outlet publishes an op-ed calling for the abolishment of the third year of law school. Having gone through law school, I can say that there’s some validity to that argument.

Allow me to explain using the following well-worn adage: In 1L, you’ll get scared to death; in 2L, you’ll get worked to death; and in 3L, you’ll get bored to death.

1L: Scared to Death
1L is really not that bad. But. You’ll still be terrified out of your beautiful mind some of the time.

The law is completely new to you, so there’s that learning curve. Then, you have the actual curve, which is unforgiving and will be spoken of by your classmates as if it’s an actual horror-film entity. You’ll be studying like mad so that you can make like Neve Campbell and survive The Curve, except law school exams are far less killable than exams you’ve survived before. Finally, you have the Socratic method, where you’ll get called on randomly to answer a string of questions while the entire class listens to you float or flounder.

Still, for all that terror, the classes are essential. They usually consist of something along the lines of Criminal Law, Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Administrative Law, and Legal Writing, and they form the foundation of your legal education.

2L: Worked to Death
By 2L, you have a much better idea of how things work: the law is no longer a confusing mass, you know how to outline, and you know how to handle cold calls (at the very least, you know how to make it sound like you did the reading). How, then, do you wind up getting worked to death?

You’ll be taking on more classes, classes that are more complex than your 1L classes, and you’ll have so much more going on. You’ll be on a journal, doing a clinic, taking on a part-time job, and/or getting more involved in a student organization. Here’s the thing with student organizations: the 2Ls are the officers and do all the work. I questioned a 3L on this when I was a 1L, and she said, “Oh, the 3Ls just kick back. That’s just how it is.”

In 2L, you’ll be taking classes that are directly relevant to what you plan on doing after law school, whether it’s Corporations if you plan on doing corporate law or Evidence if you plan on doing litigation.

3L: Bored to Death
By this point, you’ve become a well-oiled machine, able to spend the minimum amount of time necessary to outline and answer cold calls (or, with proper planning, you’ve managed to avoid taking any classes that feature the Socratic method). You’re kicking back with the student organizations. You’ve taken the classes you needed.

In my last semester of law school, I took Constitutional Law, a policy colloquium, a class at the business school, and some other class I can’t recall (3L, amiright?). At this point, my criteria for classes were “What do I need to graduate?” and “What sounds interesting?” (possibly also “What does not require me to wake up at an ungodly hour?”).

I found the speakers in the colloquium to be interesting, and I liked working on projects for the business school, but none of what I did was really essential. Sure, there was Constitutional Law, but I could have taken that 2L year, if I hadn’t known there was a third year to push it off to.

3L was fun, but not essential to the development of my legal education—especially for all that tuition.

Before I went to law school, I reached out to alumni of my alma mater who were practicing attorneys for their takes on law school. I kept hearing the following refrain: “What I did in law school has nothing to do with what I do now as an actual attorney.” I heard that all through law school from friends who had already graduated and lawyers I met at networking functions.

In 1L, you’re developing a general understanding of how the law works. In 2L, you’re honing in on what you want to do as an actual lawyer. 3L should be a time where you put all that knowledge to work, through clinics or actual employment.