What I want to discuss with you briefly—and I promise to be brief—is whether (to be blunt about it) you have essentially wasted one of your three years here, and could have done the job in two.
It is a current proposal for reform that law students should be permitted to sit for the bar exam and otherwise be eligible to practice law after only two years of study. To be sure, this is not a new idea. In New York, for example, between 1882 and 1911, college graduates needed to complete only two years of law school to sit for the New York bar; only non-graduates had to do the extra year.1 But then, in 1911, the New York Court of Appeals changed the rule to three years—which remains the rule today in almost all jurisdictions. But, now and again, it has been a source of controversy. In the 1970s prominent educators from President Derek C. Bok of Harvard University to President Edward H. Levi of the University of Chicago said publicly that switching to two years was at least worth a try.2 Then in 1999 Judge Richard Posner embraced the idea.3 As did the President of the United States just last year, saying that third-year students would be “better off clerking or practicing in a firm.”4 Finally, joining the chorus—and this was a surprise, at least to me—was the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, which suggested in January of this year that “bar admitting authorities could create paths to licensure with fewer hours than the [current] Standards require by devices such as: (1) accepting applicants who . . . have fewer hours of law-school training than the Standards require; or (2) accepting applicants with two-years of law school credits plus a year of carefully-structured skills-based experience, inside a law school or elsewhere.”5
I vigorously dissent. It seems to me that the law-school-in-two-years proposal rests on the premise that law school is—or ought to be—a trade school. It is not that. It is a school preparing men and women not for a trade but for a profession—- the profession of law. One can practice various aspects of law without knowing much about the whole field. I expect that someone could be taught to be an expert real- estate conveyancer in six weeks, or a tax advisor in six months. And maybe we should train such people—but we should not call them lawyers. Just as someone might become expert in hand surgery without knowing much about the rest of the human body, so also one can become expert in various segments of the law without knowing much about the rest. We should call the former a hand surgeon rather than a doctor; and the latter a real-estate conveyancer, or H&R Block—but not a lawyer. Those of you who have walked the streets of Paris may have noticed (as I have) signs here and there—“Jurisconsult,” for example—advertising the services of people who give legal advice but are not avocats (lawyers). I am not even sure whether one must pass an exam or have any special training to work in such a capacity.