Friday, October 19, 2012


Law schools have seen the water spilling over the deck. But, as LawProf wrote this morning, most are still shuffling their deck chairs. Some have thrown a few chairs overboard, while charging more for the remaining seats. Others are adding a whole new deck, urging graduates to cruise for a fourth year. Still others are sending students off to swab the decks of merchant ships, while continuing to collect full tuition for first-class seats on deck.

Forget the deck chairs, it's time to build lifeboats. Here's a boat that a nimble law school could assemble in less than a year.  It won't solve all of the problems in legal education, but it would help students immediately, cost schools very little, and lay the foundation for future innovation. It doesn't require ABA approval, and central administration is likely to go along.

The boat: Give a master's degree to every student who successfully completes the first year of law school. That's the model that many PhD programs follow; a student earns a master's degree on the way to securing the doctorate. The first year of law school doesn't qualify students to practice law, but it represents significant academic achievement. By recognizing that work, schools can help both students and themselves. (Law Office Computing suggested this approach in a summer comment; my proposal also draws upon an idea floated by Akhil Amar and Ian Ayres last year. Amar and Ayres suggested a partial tuition refund for students leaving after the first year; I propose an MA for somewhat similar purposes.)

The benefits for students: The MA would give law students a needed boost of confidence at the end of the first year. Whatever their class standing, they have completed a rigorous year of study--and they deserve recognition for that. More important, the degree would give students needed flexibility in today's workplace. Students could continue their studies immediately to earn the JD; leave law school after one year with an MA in hand; or work for a few years before returning for the JD. To accommodate the last option, I would give students up to three years to return with no questions asked; they could petition to return after that point.

Note that students would not have to choose between the MA and a JD; all students who successfully completed the first year would receive the MA. A student who knew by the end of finals period that she hated law school might decide immediately to leave with her MA  --but she could still return within three years to complete the JD. Another student might enroll for the second year but decide to withdraw after completing OCI; that student would still have the MA and a chance to return for the JD. Yet another student might receive an interesting job offer after his second summer; he could accept the offer, work for a few years, and return later to complete his JD if that made sense professionally.

The benefits for schools: We would help our students cope with a difficult, unpredictable job market. We would also help all of them feel some measure of success--and control over their professional lives--at the end of the first year. If those altruistic benefits aren't enough, here are a few more calculated ones:

1. Our upper-level students would have more focus and commitment; they would choose to pursue the JD over a plausible alternative. That commitment may pay off in both the classroom and the job market.

2. If some students depart after earning an MA, that relieves pressure on the JD job market--and on the school's placement office.

3. Some of the students who choose to leave with an MA may be ones who would have had particular trouble securing post-JD jobs. They, and the school's placement statistics, will fare better with good MA jobs instead of unattainable JD ones. Schools should disclose employment results for students who leave with an MA, but they could separate those results from the JD ones. A student who secures an HR position after a one-year MA will have a more attractive outcome than one who gets the same job--or none--after a three-year JD.

4. Students who leave with the MA, work for a few years, and then return to complete the JD would add useful perspectives to the classroom.

5. Prospective applicants, including some of the most talented ones, have started to shy away from the high-stakes law school lottery. An MA-JD path is less risky, and may tempt some of these talented students back to law school. (This is the part that makes me, personally, a little nervous. I don't want to oversell law school yet again. But I think the student options mitigate that concern.)

6. A school that implemented this program quickly would almost certainly reap a bonus in the qualifications of its admitted students. If you were deciding between two law schools, wouldn't you go to the one that offered you a free MA at the end of your first year--along with the flexibility that degree would provide? In a time of declining applications and credentials, even a small bonus could significantly affect a school's entering class profile.

The costs for schools: Implementing this proposal will take paperwork, and maybe some wrangling with the central university. But the in-course MA is standard in many PhD programs; central universities should find this type of proposal palatable. They might even take it as a sign that law schools have finally figured out the proper order of graduate degrees.

Law schools will, of course, worry about departing upper-level students and lost tuition. But this program is one that can adapt to student choices. Over time, if the MA works for students, law schools may enroll more first-year students and fewer upper-level ones. There's nothing wrong with that. One way or another, the structure of legal education is going to change. This is one way to grab hold of the reins and try to stay on top of the changes rather than trailing behind them.

Schools will also worry about uncertainty; it's harder to plan your upper-level courses if you're not sure how many students will return to campus. But uncertainty is a given in the new economy, and law schools are already learning to deal with that. How many schools had to adjust the size of 1L sections or writing classes after admitting a significantly smaller class this year? Will we offer as many Evidence and Business Associations sections next year, when the 2L class is correspondingly smaller? We can learn to deal with enrollment shifts, just as other businesses do.

Benefits for the future: This proposal is a modest one; it doesn't cure the deeper ills of legal education and the job market. But, in addition to the immediate benefits outlined above, I think this proposal would help law schools measure the value of their education (What does the first year accomplish? What do the upper-level years add?), probe the connection between their classes and the new job market, and begin adapting their degrees. We are far too wedded to the three-year JD, a degree that many segments of the economy no longer value. Creating an MA for successful 1Ls will shake up our assumptions and help us move in new directions.


  1. What would the M.A. be in? Legal studies?

    1. And how would it impact the LLM market?

  2. Meow Meow says: What a joke! An M.A. after your first year...and who's going to hire you? Garbage is garbage so why try to massage it like an alchemist tries to turn metal into gold. There are too many lawyers, too many law schools and too many debtors. One way to diminish the value of something is to flood the market with it and there's no way to correct it until the supply decreases and/or the demand increases.

  3. It's obviously just a cosmetic change, but it could have some merit. Dropping out after first year smacks of failure; leaving with a master's degree smacks of success. People afraid to do the former might do the latter.

  4. Honestly, after 1L, you've pretty much learned all you're gonna learn in school about practicing law. These MS degrees could go on and work in small law and "shitlaw" and use those extra two years racking up experience rather than debt. Because, "shitlaw" wouldn't really be so bad if it weren't for the crushing, crippling debt load. Most small firm attorneys actually have a family life and somewhat free weekends even if they only make $60K/year. Which is a totally legit salary if you only have $40K of law school debt.

  5. I disagree with granting an M.A. after the first year of law school. It is nothing more than window dressing that cheapens (if it can be cheapen even further than what it currently is) higher education.

    The solution (which will never be adopted by the ABA or the law schools) is to reduce law school to 3 semesters while making the 4th semester a clinic or apprenticeship under the supervision of a REAL (not a law professor with no practical experience or only a couple of doc review monkey years in Biglaw) practicing attorney.

    This profession is sinking very fast. Today, I had lunch with a colleague who is a solo. He told me business was very slow since newbie solos are undercutting him on legal fees, charging as low as $500 for a contested divorce and $100 for traffic tickets. Anyway, my colleague is so desperate for business that he told me he was going to knowingly set up dummy corporations to sponsor immigrants. I suppose when the till is low, the lines of ethics get blurry. I blame the avaricious law schools for this state of affairs. They are producing too many lawyers who are walking malpractice cases but taking cases away from more experienced counsel because of they are whoring themselves out at wholesale hourly or flat rates. Fortunately, I am in a unique niche area of law and newbies won't dare try their hand at what I do. Yet, it is discouraging to see colleagues contemplate risking their integrity, ethics and law license as a result of the massive over saturation that the law schools have produced.

  6. There is zero demand for a MA in legal studies. Nothing else really needs to be said. Who would hire a MA in legal studies over a JD?

    1. See, these people aren't getting jobs anyway.

  7. The MA in Law proposal only makes sense if such a degree had any kind of value. It doesn't. If you put it down, it would have the same effect as putting down something like this on a resume RIGHT NOW
    - XYZ School of Law (attended 1L then dropped out)

    Would anyone RIGHT NOW ever put down anything like the above? If NOT then this MA proposal is useless.

  8. If the idea is to get people who know they will never work as lawyers to drop out and leave with a piece of paper for their effort - I'm all for this.

    People can walk away with at least something to show for their money and effort. They know they aren't getting jobs that will allow them to service their debt, so at least they will feel that they got something out of the year they invested.

  9. A better option might be to just make law school 2 years.

  10. While I think the proposal is pretty much pointless for the reason stated in October 19, 2012 6:49 PM, I guess there's no harm in it.

    Most people won't put this on any resume since its no different than telling people you were a LS 1L dropout without this MA.

    But the existence of this MA in legal studies, automatically granted after finishing 1L, doesn't hurt that 1L dropout any more than the way it is right now.

  11. Presumably the major reason a 1L would drop out is that she believes she cannot find a job. As I see it, the MA is essentially designed to ease the pain of dropping out so that we end up with the appropriate student:job ratio in the remaining years. This begs the question of why not simply admit the appropriate number of students to begin with? Having a bunch of students pay tuition for a year and then softly pushing them out seems a lot like exploitation.

    Admittedly, it might be more generous exploitation than what we do to the bottom half of current law students--make them pay three years of tuition that leads to no job. But it's still exploitation and not a cure.

  12. *I posted this earlier, but it bears repeating*

    There is absolutely NO REASON for law school to be more than 2 years. It's only 3 years so that: (1) schools can suck an extra year's worth of overpriced tuition out of their students, (2) those in the legal community can pretend they are part of a "learned" profession requiring "rigorous" schooling (akin to med school or Doctoral programs); and (3) the sadistic appetite of the legal community is satisfied insofar as proving that future attorneys went through the same mind-numbing bullshit (hazing) that they had to endure.

    The old adage is that during 3L year you are "bored to death." I wonder why? Perhaps because it's full of pointless electives, on completely contrived "subjects" which are offered simply to trick students into thinking they are "learning" and not wasting another year of their lives and $40,000-$50,000...

    1L is the only "necessary" year of required courses. Even 2L is a complete waste of time(although a 2 year program could be structured to make 2L relevant and useful).

    Legal academia is a complete joke. No peer-reviewed publications and way too many bullshit articles written by pompous, insecure no-nothings.

    The law is a TRADE/PROFESSION, it's not really academic. Attempts to make it seem otherwise are indicative of wishful thinking or arrogance.

    1. "...insecure no-nothings."

  13. What's with the law school duration and legal employment sideshow in the comments? I thought DJM suggested the MA because it's something useful and with a good chance at implementation by law schools.

    Stop clogging up the comments section with irrelevant fantasies about 1-semester-long law schools with perfect employment and unicorns.

  14. Having a Master's is useful, but only in certain high-demand disciplines. It would seem like this is akin to a Master's in sociology or anthropology? Or Africian studies, women's studies, dance therapy, all the usual suspects. How about giving a dollar for dollar credit toward a real undergraduate degree in engineering, accounting, finance, ect?

    The high schools and colleges have got to get real with the students about the job market in today's world. The students should study what they would like to do, what they can educate themselves to do, and what someone will pay them to do.

  15. A good idea, but a very slippery slope. If an MA is appropriate, then why not just merge law schools into the larger university, offer "law" as just another major, pay professors what normal professors earn, and keep just a very small JD program that requires admission after successful completion of an MA?

    Offering an MA for all students completing 1L smacks of kids' soccer, where everyone gets a trophy for participation. Yuck.

    And lL is hardly a significant academic achievement. It might be a significant bullshit-eating achievement, but academically, 1L is very weak.

    Good idea, but there are better ideas out there. One of which is staying on message that the problems with legal education need far more than window dressing to solve.

  16. "Law schools will, of course, worry about departing upper-level students and lost tuition. But this program is one that can adapt to student choices. Over time, if the MA works for students, law schools may enroll more first-year students and fewer upper-level ones. There's nothing wrong with that."

    One more observation: I think the cost of this proposal to schools would actually be quite high absent significant changes in how law schools award financial aid. For a variety of reasons, I think people paying sticker are far more likely to leave with an MA than those on scholarships. This means that the school really would have to enroll far more "MA-only" students to keep afloat at its current size. This might actually result in exacerbating the over-enrollment in law schools as schools purposely enroll people they know will likely quit. The MA program would likely become a cash cow to fund people who stick out the JD--much like how MA programs in the humanities bring in cash to fund the PhD students, a system possible because the MA admits often cling to the hope of eventually getting into a PhD program.

    The problem is that the MA doesn't really "work" for students. It's a consolation prize with little marketable value that they get when their plan for a JD doesn't pan out.

  17. DJM,

    Thank you for the effort, but as other commentators have already noted (albeit a bit rudely), the proposed solution doesn't really address the current, vast demand/supply imbalance.

    We *already have* hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of heavily indebted lawyers (1.4 million licensed attys per the ABA, while BigLaw's NLJ Top 250 contains no more than 120k - less than 10% of this so-called profession) who essentially have no realistic way to pay off their debt.

    1) How to increase demand? Very difficult to see, but crucial to think about. Much greater knowledge about the business conditions of solos and firms with fewer than 10 attys is crucial - and almost totally unstudied.

    And utterly, utterly untaught.

    2) How to reduce supply?

    A) The blog wars are still the best, *fastest*, and most cost-effective tool. Consolidating the *most* relevant data and most pertinent observations at a single URL has tremendous viral value - the most effective case for *not* going to law school is simplified to a *single link* which can be endlessly emailed and linked to.

    B) The lawsuits must (and will) continue.

    We are dealing with utterly immoral institutions and individuals (amoral - in the sense of simply not wanting to investigate the truth - *might* have applied 5 - or 20 - years ago. No longer.)

    *Every* indication is that they will not stop *actively* luring talented young people to their lifelong financial ruin - year after year, after year.

    (The almost immediate perversion of IBR illustrates as well the throbbing desire of legal academia to infect the public fisc, as the medical profession has done by means of Medicaid/Medicare - who having finished the bleeding of their trusting patients, moved on to the exsanguination of society as a whole. Legal academia envies this greatly.).

    These sort of creatures only understand financial rewards and financial punishments.

    Appealing to their better nature - as has been repeatedly demonstrated - is fruitless, for they have no better nature (all those pontificating lectures, notwithstanding).

    There are *dozens* of potential causes of action - and even some law review articles laying a few of them out.

    Again, the internet can show the way.

    "Open sourcing" detailed legal strategies at dedicated websites would greatly reduce the time and cost of litigation efforts.

    There are hundreds of thousands of utterly betrayed alumni committed to matricide against their alma maters.

    Let us make use of their knowledge, creativity, and enduring rage.

    1. I agree a lot of what was said, but I just want to add a couple things.

      Law school enrollment is a reflection of the relationship between the cost of attending law school and the perceived value of a law degree. Therefore, the most effective way for blogs like this to institute change is by showing the public the true cost and value of a law degree.

      First, LAWPROF has done a good job of showing the true average debt levels of some of these schools when they just completely misrepresent themselves.

      Second, and more difficult issue to overcome, is the perceived value of a law degree. There is still a perception in the general public that law is a distinguished profession and most lawyers are in the top 1%. If the perceived value of a law degree was closer it's actual value than I think at most we would have 50 law schools open.

      Keep up the good work.

  18. "There are *dozens* of potential causes of action - and even some law review articles laying a few of them out."

    Anyone have a link? I would really like to see those.

    1. Here is a link to one of the papers ("Law Deans in Jail"):

      I'll see if I can track down the others I have heard mentioned.

      As for bare causes of action (without getting into required elements, specific likelihood of prevailing, etc.) here are some off the top of my head:

      1)Common law fraud

      2)Federal wire/mail fraud

      3)Honest services fraud (still viable?)

      4)Qui tam actions for fraud against federal/state governments (guaranteed student loans)

      5)Negligent misrepresentation (hello, ABA and USN&WR)

      6) Breach of fiduciary duty (remember all that financial info you had to disclose to your price discriminating law school?)

      7) Statutory violation of tax laws concerning "nonprofit" status of schools and endowments

      8) Writ of mandamus executed against public law schools to perform complete and accurate disclosure of *all* relevant placement information in their possession.

      9) Quo warranto writ executed against public law schools for unlawful execution of powers (public purpose of misleading applicants?)

      10) Violation of various Professional Responsibility obligations

      11) Federal and State Deceptive Trade Practices

      12) Securities law violations (false/incomplete representations when packaging student loans into securities for public sale).

      Now, litigation is a long and tortured road - even fleshing out the required elements for each of the above causes of action (and there are multiple ones for every potentially affected party) will take time and care.

      But an open source project to do so can focus the rage and betrayal of tens of thousands of deceived and highly motivated law grads.

      And in doing so, can make a lot of the necessary legal groundwork *freely* available to potential litigants and their small, outgunned plaintiff firms.

      (Some lawsuits have already been filed and ruled upon - but the power of the internet has *not* been utilized and unleashed to date)

      A centralized website/blog could be set up with dedicated sections for each theoretical cause of action, with discussion groups reviewing the required elements under each law, in each jurisdiction.

      Perhaps Law School Transparency (which has seemed quiet of late) could get involved.

      The point is, we are dealing with institutions and individuals who have proven themselves morally bankrupt - they only understand and respond to legal coercion (if that).

      They will have to be made to see their own pending personal ruin (the way tens/hundreds of thousands of law grads confront it *now*, every day) before they will move to correct the historic and ongoing corruption.

      Everything else will be empty, pointless talk on their part.

      When they deign to do even that.

    2. Another relevant paper ("Professional Dishonesty: Do U.S. Law Schools That Report False or Misleading Employment Statistics Violate Consumer Protection Laws?")

    3. 1-12, LOL, what are you, a noob 1L?

    4. Do something constructive and specify the flaws in each suggested cause of action (which were only intended as a stepping off point - not detailed litigation strategies).

      Otherwise, you just sound like a lazy law school shill.

    5. Please. SEC violations? None. Even if someone, somewhere down the line, does repackage the debts as securities, it ain't the lawl skules. Similarly prof.resp., mandamus (oh, WHO, exactly, is the federal actor you wish to force into action) and quo warranto (same comment). It's like you took a bar exam prep test and just listed everything you thought might just possibly apply, in ignorance of what they actually mean.

      You (and any other plaintiff) will get a lot farther by NOT tossing spaghetti at the wall to see what will stick.

    6. 1) SEC violation - Who says the law schools themselves have to be *directly* hit for the "money-go-round" to stop?

      If packagers (investment banks) of student loan securitizations get successfully sued for law school sourced data (placement/repayment rates) then the securitization/money pipeline falls apart.

      Think multi-dimensionally and creatively.

      It may not prevail, but it is arguable (and therefore communicates a threat to the system).

      2) Mandamus/Quo Warranto - Who said anything about the Feds?

      *State* actors (public law schools) are generally not encouraged by statute to deceive.

      A state judge introduced to all the facts might see the situation as it is - the schools are largely acting as factories for ethical, in not criminal, fraud.

      And *compel* them to fully and completely disclose the entirety of their placement records.

      3) Professional responsibility - To the extent that the professoriat and the law school administration are licensed attys (most are) then they are bound by the professional responsibility rules of their state bar.

      This puts them under an ethical standard that is significantly higher than the legal standard - of say, fraud.

      How much press do you think it would get if a large number of law school administrators and professors start getting disbarred?

      Think multi-dimensionally.

      4) There are 8 other avenues you had nothing to say about.

      I agree with you about spaghetti - but I wasn't drafting a pleading - I was planting seeds of thought that would *lead* to pleadings - after a lot more detail work would be done.

      It is quite possible that many of the failed actions to date (I haven't read them yet) failed because their causes of action weren't creative enough.

      The dozen causes of action I listed (there are surely many more, given some thought) were not *thoughtlessly* suggested - as you suggest.

      I did not claim them to be equally valid or likely to prevail - I explicitly stated that their individual required elements would have to be investigated (perhaps at *many* jurisdictional levels).

      I suggested a crowd-sourcing approach in order to minimize the work/risk for any one individual/small group of people (many of whom are struggling very hard simply to survive, thanks to the factories of fraud).

      So rather than carp and sneer, how about rolling up your sleeves and helping?

  19. @8:31PM

    Just consult any law review article that delves into the mechanics of Section 90 of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts. There are no shortage of law review articles which expound on this profound theory that may serve the basis of lawsuits against the law schools.

  20. DJM - this is actually a good idea. A number of graduate programs encourage students to take classes at their law school - and this would give students who only do a year - something tangible for their efforts. It is worth noting that schools like Tufts - already offer an MA in Law and Diplomacy. This idea - could build on that concept. Like everything else - this idea could work well for the elite schools - and risk becoming a horrible trap for the crappy schools.

  21. I like this idea. It would help ease the transition out of law school, before the debt loads and time investment become overwhelming. And I think kids would prefer to put M.A. in Jurisprudence on their resume where the alternative is to invent some persuasive lie to explain the one year of lost time.

    Yes, there is a big risk that this MA could come to be seen as a loser's degree. OTOH, maybe the MA would actually be more respected than a JD in terms of acquiring nonlaw white collar jobs. The MA might represent an appealing smattering of legal training plus research and writing over and above college. By contrast, a JD often signifies unappealing elite expectations and provokes the question from nonlaw employers who don't understand the legal job market: "Why are you applying for this nonlaw position, when you spent three years getting that law degree?"

    Moreover, giving dropouts the option to return to law school within three years is a psychologically shrewd device to ease the transition out, since it is very difficult to close a door on something you wanted to do, knowing that it is forever.


    1. " risk that this MA could come to be seen as a loser's degree."

      Come to be seen?

      Rather, I think it would be viewed as the booby prize that it truly is, from the get go.

  22. Sure, it's nothing but a consolation prize. So what? So is the terminal master's in any other field.

    The idea is to let people take a graceful exit. They wouldn't have to say "I couldn't cut it"; they could say, smugly, "I decided that law wasn't for me".

    If this were done, though, I'd want to see standards raised. As it is, anyone who is admitted will pass. Start throwing people out at the end of the first semester.

  23. People put unfinished doctorates ("all but dissertation"—yes, well, the dissertation is the whole goddamn doctorate) on their résumés. Why wouldn't they list an MA in law?

    If standards were raised (a big if), this MA could even be viewed as a certificate of some minimum of literacy. That would not be useless. There are many lines of work in which the ability to compose an intelligible paragraph is desirable.

    I like the suggestion of leaving exiting people to believe that they aren't closing the door on law school. Many would walk out thinking that they'd be back the following year. But they'd have to move on to something else, and by and by they'd quite forget about law school. Or the three-year period would lapse, and then they could comfort themselves by blaming adverse circumstances.

    1. Anyone who lists ABD on their CV and who isn't actively looking for a place to complete it is viewed as a joke.

  24. No, generally before you write a dissertation you have to pass oral "comp" exams that in theory test your ability to teach the discipline at the collegiate level, You generally "earn" a M.A. before you pass your comps.

  25. Prof. Merritt,

    I believe that the situation has gone beyond building lifeboats by issuing reforms. Only a few schools can feasibly implement the reform you suggested without losing tuition revenue. Conversely, I also think that many 1Ls with average or even mediocre grades will not just take the MA and walk away as a number of them are optimistically stubborn.

    A number of law schools need to sink. Many grads are unemployed with titanic levels of student loan debt. The number of grads compared to the shrinking number of entry-level jobs available is almost comparable to the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

  26. I like the idea.

    Law school reflects US society in that it is an all-or-nothing proposition. Even if your first-year grades were disastrous, there's no real way out. This provides a face-saving option.

  27. i would rather hire someone with a paralegal degree. their classes actually teach you something useful.

    1l classes do not teach you practical stuff for the real world as many have already said

  28. For what it's worth, I believe that several sub-elite schools already do something like this. Its main value to enrollees is that being underemployed with an MA in legal studies is only a third as expensive as being underemployed with a JD.

  29. Charge the curriculum and award a paralegal degree after the first year? What is the job market for paralegals?

    1. There are two year degrees for para legals. First year of law school teaches you nothing about practice management or case management.



    1. If they're not closing the LS, that's not much in the way of progress relating to the topic of this blog...

  31. Can we stop pretending that studying Law in a U.S. law school is the equaivalent of any other acaemic study? A J.D. is not a real doctorate; content-wise it's more like a Master's degree. No other faculty would ever consider giving a student an M.A. after only one year of study in that subject. An M.A. should only be given after the student has studied the general subject matter of a particular field (e.g., contracts) and attained competency over a particular topic (e.g., damages).This is more or less what law schools do now with certificate programs and a writing component.

    Conisdering that the law degree is a professional degree, perhaps after completion of the first yesr, a student could be awarded a paralegal certificate. The student has certainly not "mastered" law after the first year and awarding an MA to such students is just further evidence to the rest of academia that the law faculty is not academically serious. Let's not forget that the JD degree is just branding and that the basic law degree in most countries is an LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws)as it was in this country until the law school marketing departments decided to rebrand it.

    1. "No other faculty would ever consider giving a student an M.A. after only one year of study in that subject. "

      - Not sure what you're talking about here. Many masters programs are 30 credit hours.

      "Conisdering that the law degree is a professional degree, perhaps after completion of the first yesr, a student could be awarded a paralegal certificate."

      - This is even farther from reality. Nothing in 1L (or LS as a whole) prepares one to work as a paralegal. I just spent 8 months on a candidate search to find the right paralegal. I probably had 20 lawyers apply; none of them were qualified to do the work.

  32. @5:34 That should be "change" the curriculum, not "charge", my bad.

    The last thing any Liberal Arts major needs is a useless "'Masters" degree to hang on the wall. On the other hand maybe a paralegal degree would offer some chance of employment?

    1. No one would hire such a paralegal as a paralegal. Real paralegal programs would have to start calling themselves something else.

  33. The Masters Degree idea would only work if you move some of the first year curriculum to the second and third year and replaced first year courses with subjects that would make the person more employable in neighbouring disciplines - otherwise it would simply create a group of second class lawyers. The problem is that there is now a glut of 3 year JDs willing to work for "beans" - how would a Masters degree make someone competitive.

    I am not actually of the view that a 3-year law degree is a bad thing. Rather, my objection is that a lot of courses are either shallow in substance, or pointless in terms of relevance to practice. Three years could be used more effectively if schools dropped the BS courses and focussed on the things a good lawyers should have some knowledge of:

    Constitutional law (over-taught in most law schools) combined with some substantive civil rights (as in doing it for clients, not just theory)
    Legal research and statutory construction
    Persuasive Legal Writing
    Legal Instrument Drafting (i.e., contracts, etc.)
    Criminal Procedure
    Substantive Criminal Law
    Property (including non-real estate and intangible property)
    Civil Procedure and Courts (not just Federal Courts, and including basic arbitration/mediation)
    Business organisations and corporations
    Accounting including some forensic accounting
    Tax (personal, corporate, [not just] federal [income], state, some international)
    UCC/Commercial Law (including some consumer rights)
    Introductory Intellectual Property
    Basic Employment/Labor
    Antitrust and trade regulation (federal, state and intro international)
    Administrative Law
    Basic personal law (wills & estates, marital (divorce), family law, children, etc.)

    On top of that I would like to see students do heavier courses in:

    Substantive international (dumping, CVD, Customs, international tax)
    International legal systems
    Wills & Estates
    Family Law
    Economics and Economic Analysis (as used in Antitrust, IP, M&A)

    If you did get to do all this it would be a busy 3 years.

  34. I am not sure I agree that the profile of entering students would improve if the MA option was adopted. If it is already risky to assume you will finish 1L in the top 10% of the class, that risk is compounded if you know that the accomplishment will be immediately yanked away when half the class takes the MA and runs. Now you are top 20% and facing 2/3 of your ultimate law school career competing against only the very best students.

    One of the less remarked upon aspects of the law school scam is that it enormously benefits 10% of law students by providing an ample group of suckers to pad out the bottom of the mandatory curve (along with subsidizing "merit" scholarships). Those 10% are the future alumni who will donate to the school (along with padding out the school's stats when enrolled). Why would any school make life harder for the small sliver of students who actually keep the institution viable?

    1. Your status could be reported as of the end of the 1L year.

    2. This is a perennial problem with law schools, one that definitely needs more attention. It's a concern, in fact, for the 1Ls enrolled in this year's smaller classes: 20 people qualify for the top 10% in a class of 200, while just 15 will make that cut in a class of 150.

      Cynically, I think the MA could help--or at least not hurt. First-year grades and class rank are computed based on everyone who finishes that year. So the students who return to campus for 2L fall classes (and interviews) will have their first-year rank to show employers. Students at the bottom of the 1L class may be more likely to leave with the MA, but the remaining students have a genuine rank in the top 10%, 20%, half, etc. of the class.

      In upper-level courses, many law schools already loosen the curve significantly--so I'm not sure the remaining JD students would suffer a fall in GPA. With higher UL curves, their GPAs could even go up. Rank remains a concern, but there are a number of other excellence markers in the UL (journals, editorships, moot court, clinic awards). For smaller UL classes, there will be more of those markers to go around. A good first-year rank (which seems to live forever in our law school world) combined with UL grades and extracurricular honors might do the trick.

    3. I'm a lot higher than the top 10% and have those "excellence markers" as well yet cannot even get interviews, never mind offers.

      Count one student in the top 10% who will never donate a goddamn farthing to the law school.

  35. Current 2L here. Only a few weeks ago I brought up the MA after 1 year idea with one of my classmates. He thought it was a great idea because it would help people get positions as paralegals, etc. I think that's grossly misguided and beside the point. No one should get a masters to be a paralegal. The whole point from my perspective is that it would embolden people to drop out. Dropping out without getting a piece of paper for your efforts, even if it is a useless piece of paper, is a huge impediment. The masters can be meaningless and the students can end up jobless and it would still be better than the current scenario where people double down on debt and stay in school only to get an equally useless JD.

  36. I still think that educating people on the reality of the job market is the first priority. Then there needs to be a lot more support for people who chose to drop out- piece of paper or no. A lot of people should drop out once they know their grades .

    But even on TLS there is a lot of pressure on people to stay.

    Note- a recent poster wrote that as soon as you deposit at Harvard you are set. This was promptly contradicted by two current HLS students who know people who struck out.

    When will people understand that their just aren't enough jobs!

    1. Sorry- I mean there are not enough jobs! Not @ their"

  37. Law prof- there has been a little discussion on TLS of people who realize they need to drop out, retake and go to a better school if they want a shot at a job.

    The question is- once they have grades for a semester, do they become a transfer student instead of a new admit?

    1. I don't know the answer to this question, but my intuitive assumption(which obviously might be wrong) is that somebody who drops out of law school after the first semester would be treated as a new applicant if he or she reapplied to law schools subsequently (although the previous enrollment would have to be disclosed).

      Hopefully someone more knowledgeable will respond.

      Speaking of intuitions, mine is that offering a degree of some sort, especially with the option of returning, after the first year of law school would help a significant number of people who should drop out to do so. The stigma factor in all this is extremely powerful, and if this sort of approach lessens the stigma of dropping out even marginally it could be very useful, even if the degree itself ends up adding no value.

    2. Indeed. The benefit is almost exclusively psychological/emotional. People in law school tend to think "In for a penny, in for a pound"; they don't want to leave with nothing.

      Bear in mind also that there are jobs that pay more just for a master's degree—any master's degree. So there would be a practical benefit for some people.

    3. By the way, "TLS" is ridiculous. It stands for "top law schools", yet much of the discussion there revolves around whether one should sign up for Cooley or hold out for Indiana Tech.

  38. I generally like the idea of some kind of degree being awarded after the first year of law school. It would allow the student an exit strategy when one discovers that there are few jobs today for new lawyers. The student could also determine whether they are good at the law and/or believe that they will like practicing law. The student would also avoid another two years of indebtedness. However, as someone with both an M.A. and a J.D., I can tell you that the first year of law school is not equivalent to a master's degree from a quality school. I would propose that a law student receive a LLB degree or something equivalent to a second bachelor's degree for passing the first year of law school. The law school could offer some elective courses the second semester of the first year which would allow the degree to have an emphasis in several areas where employment might be found: Paralegal, Human Relations, Mediation/Arbitration, Contract Drafting, Securities Compliance, etc.

    Despite my above comments, I am still in favor of the dissolution of many 3rd tier law schools and the shrinkage of class sizes at most law schools. There are neither enough jobs for new lawyers nor are there enough jobs for students with one year of law school.

  39. I agree with the people who say that the only value to this idea is that more people may drop out. The value of a masters degree in law in the job market is 0.

    How likely are people to actually drop out? Its been a while now since I was a 1L/2L, so perhaps things are different today. In my day, however, there wasn't that much difference between the mindset of 1Ls and 0Ls. 1Ls were not yet to the point of really worrying seriously about their employment prospects. They still don't need to find employment for another 30 months or so, which is forever.

    I guess if it allows even one person an early escape, then its a good thing. Amusingly, it will be the smartest students who drop out, leaving behind the worst to graduate and represent the school as (unemployed) lawyers.

    1. In response to my own post, I certainly do hope the atmosphere is different today, and that the serious of the jobs crisis is well known. It makes me absolutely sick to think about how ignorant the students at my school (DJM's own OSU) were when I was a student in the early 2000s. First, we bought hook, line, and sinker the "average" salary of 60K that the placement office told us we could expect. There was no questioning that number.

      Second, we heard and repeated such lines as "what do you call the person who graduates last in the class? A lawyer" and my favorite: "the As become professors, the Bs become judges and the C's become rich". 1Ls were running around saying and believing these things at the same time that graduates were struggling to find 30K and 40K jobs. The Cs were most certainly not becoming rich.

      I can't imagine that such myths could still be believed in today's law school, but who knows. They weren't true back then and everybody believed them anyway. And I do remember a few 1Ls who didn't return for 2L year. We called them losers.

    2. "Amusingly, it will be the smartest students who drop out, leaving behind the worst to graduate and represent the school as (unemployed) lawyers."

      if it were a nonT14, generally speaking.

    3. I go to a "T30" and we lost 20% of our class to people dropping out. So it's not like people aren't dropping out when it's a bad position for them. But they were all replaced by third tier transfers so we're still graduating a huge class.

    4. That seems like an extraordinarily high number. I checked the ABA 2011 data and the highest attrition rate for any school ranked in the 26-30 range was at Davis, which lost 8% of its class (I assume most of these people transferred however).

      Of course it's possible that the transfer/drop-out rate was much higher this fall at some schools however.

    5. how is attrition measured in 2L year? Is it measured solely against the 1L class or does it factor in transfers&visiting students?

    6. Attrition is measured by how many people who matriculated as 1Ls weren't in the 2L class the next year. It's divided into academic attrition (which at most schools these days is close to zero) and "other," which combines transfers to other schools and people who drop out.

    7. Would only the smartest students take the terminal master's? That assumes that taking the terminal master's would be a choice. I'd force large numbers of students to leave.

    8. "T30"—which, as Prof. Campos correctly observed, means 26–30, since anything higher would be reported as "T25", "T20", or whatever—is in a tricky position. Many students at these institutions will have ambitions of transferring upward before they've even started. Being at the very top of Tier 4, they'll be desperate to move up. The top 10% or more will have a fair chance at propelling themselves into Tier 2. They'll go for it, leaving their "T30" institution with chairs to fill.

      Of course, "T30" will look prestigious to astigmats from even lower schools, so those chairs won't remain vacant. In particular, people at schools in the 50s and 60s will thirst for those spots: despite boasting of being in the "top third", they know that that's no distinction at all. But these schools form a larger and more diffuse group, so the losses to transfer are spread more thinly.

    9. YOu again with your magic self-defined tier system.

    10. The tier system is a totally imaginary, artificial construct. Any school is only the sum total of the individual students and individual faculty. How some schools can be lumped into a "third tier toilet" by some people says way more about the person doing the ranking than the school being discussed.

  40. The ONLY thing that will help students will be if several dozen law schools close.

    How likely is that?

    1. Pretty likely. I expect quite a few to close well before the end of the decade. Maybe not several dozen, granted.

  41. As I understand it, a doctoral program grants a masters along the way, but that same masters could be independently obtained. This degree couldn't be obtained except by starting a J.D. program and dropping out - it doesn't make sense to me. It has no value and seems like a feel-good measure only. No one gets a 1-year med school certificate or dropout recognition in any other field. The law schools need to close and students need to be educated on their real prospects. Psychologically and in terms of putting dropouts back into the workforce, there could be a benefit. I was a drop-out student after 1L who returned after a year off, after seeing my first student loan bill and (ha) making law review. Some kind of closure bestowed by the MA could have made it easier to move on. I am now changing careers, after misery in the field, unemployment and underemployment, 10 years later. Having moved on finally I am very happy.

  42. to MacK

    As someone who specializes in IP, why benefit is there in taking a family law, wills/trusts, or other irrelavant class like that.

    we all dont need to be a jack of all trades. i knew what kind of law i wanted to do before i ever stepped into law school. all those other classes are a waste of time for me

    1. The answer (as someone who does primarily IP) is that:

      (a) almost all the classes I listed are relevant - some more relevant than other to my IP practice (and that includes some knowledge of employment.)

      (b) I don't know if you are still in law school (it sounds like it), but I would not assume that you will land in an IP practice. If you end up even in a medium sized mostly tech firm you may well need to know these topics.

      (c) Ask a few IP practitioners how often they have in the corporate context run into family law and you would be surprised - lot of divorces in tech, lot of intra-company stuff.

      Frankly the question is, do you want to be a patent clerk or a lawyer?

  43. To Mac K

    I have been in patent law for over 15 years. Some in private practice and some as assistant GC. Yes, i have been asked about family law and wills/trusts and some off the other non business related topics you mentioned.

    i have managed multi million dollar patent cases. I have been lead counsel on 500 million dollar m&a deals. -I have negotiated sales contracts worth over 75 million.

    I have no desire to handle or advise on a family law or wills and trust or other trivial matter.

    my time is better spent staying a top notch business/patent lawyer. other than finding a referral for someone, i would not touch family law, etc case. My malpractice insurance doesnt cover it.

    I have done a fine job being a lawyer without ever touching family law cases. Many of the classes i took in law school did little to prepare me for my chosen path.

    And other than being a party to a family law matter, not one IP attorney i knew, has ever handled a family law matter other than "let me find someone who can help you."

    But i do agree to many of the other types of classes you mentioned. But those classes could be taught in a lot less time in a different manner.

    We agree a lot more than we disagree.

  44. patent law: OT but
    I discourage engineers from going to LS.....what is the "pedigree" --minimum GPA that one needs to make it in patent law....also if one ca "make" it in patent law then presumably one can make it as an engineer in a company with better prospects than being a lawyer or patent agent......pls comment

  45. I didn't read all of the comments so it may have been mentioned, but it might add value to the MA if the student is required to write some sort of thesis. I think that most PhD programs require this before the student gets the MA (assuming they are leaving before they get the PhD). This would probably make the degree look less like a "loser's degree" and show that you actually accomplished something apart from taking classes.

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