Sunday, July 17, 2016

Getting closer to the associate’s degree in law

More than two years ago I wrote about Community’s Jeff Winger, a fictional character that faked a bachelor’s degree, went straight from high school to law school, graduated, passed the bar, practiced law, was ratted-out, was disbarred, and had to go back for a post-J.D. bachelor’s to be readmitted to the bar.  (Seasons one through six on DVD here; season six online here.)  I also argued that in real-life, the J.D. is nothing more than an associate’s degree, and law schools should recognize this.  First, as the fictional Jeff Winger and every real-life law student prove, law school doesn’t require a single, college-level prerequisite to get in.  So what’s the difference if the student spends four years and $100,000-plus for a B.A. in puppetry or skips college altogether as Jeff Winger did?  And second, I argued, the third year of law school is pure silliness and should be eliminated.  In fact, some schools at the time were designing two-year programs, but were still squeezing three years’ worth of tuition dollars out of their victims students.  But now that would-be law students are better educated about the limited value of the J.D., law schools are forced to look for creative ways to fill their seats so they can pay their faculty to write cutting-edge legal scholarship

More specifically, these financial pressures are bringing us closer and closer to the associate’s degree in law.  For example, Albany Law School now offers a true, two-year J.D. program with the hope of attracting more warm bodies student loan conduits law students.  That is, the program takes only two years to complete and the school only charges for two years of tuition!  That’s a big step toward getting to an associate’s degree: bring the faux doctorate down to only two years in both time and money.

But what about that pesky, time-consuming, and expensive bachelor’s degree in puppetry (or any other subject) that a would-be law student must complete before enrolling in law school?  Well, some colleges and law schools are teaming up to let you skip your final year of college and go straight to law school.  For example, Chicago Kent Law School and Vermont Law School will take you after only three years of study at Shimer College.  And once you complete the first year of law school, Shimer will award you the bachelor’s degree.

These two different approaches allow a student to cut the B.A.-J.D. track down from seven years to six — either by skipping a year of law school or skipping a year of college.  But more importantly, they prove that the J.D. has two characteristics that make it nothing more than an associate’s degree: (1) you can complete J.D. in two years; and (2) you don’t need a college degree to enroll.

But why not blend these two plans?  If we could just combine the two approaches, i.e., if Albany Law School would also take third-year Shimer students into its two-year J.D. program, we’d cut the BA-JD track down to only five years.

That’s right: we’re inching closer and closer all the time.  We’ve gone from seven years to six years, and, if we can just get that collaborative arrangement between Shimer and Albany, five years.  The only question is how long will it take for law schools (and the ABA) to recognize that if you can get a B.A. in anything, or go to college for only three years at Shimer, then we should just quit pretending?  Why not let the Jeff Wingers of the world go straight to law school from high school to earn that two-year J.D.?

Of course, things have happened gradually because both of these developments — lopping off a year of law school and/or a year of college — start to expose law school for what it is.  Now that the J.D. can be earned in only two years, can anyone really say that the law degree is a doctorate?  (By comparison, try to imagine a two-year Ph.D. in physics.)  And because students can jump into law school without a single prerequisite, and in some cases even without a college degree, can we really even call law school a professional school?  (By comparison, try to imagine medical schools accepting students who have never completed a course in biology.) 

The question, then, is what exactly is law school?  The doctorate-school walls and professional-school walls have cracked and they’re starting to crumble.  It’s just a matter of time before we get the full-blown, two-year, post-high school Associate of Arts in Law (AAL).

Until then, we’ll have to settle for Jeff Winger, Hero at Law

1 comment:

  1. Michael
    Fantastic post! A Bachelor's in puppetry -- just priceless. Don't know if you knew this but in California, aspiring lawyers don't even need a bachelor's degree if they a attend state-accredited or unaccredited not ABA-approved law school. So even the absence of the prestigious puppetry undergraduate degree is not a hindrance to those determined to add "Esq." to their surnames.

    Additionally, the ABA, last time I checked does not require a Bachelor's in a specific discipline. So even a B.A. in puppetry or star trek studies would suffice. Some schools are even moving away from the LSAT. The University of Arizona School of Law recently made waves by also accepting GRE results.

    As for the continued dilution of the JD degree, it is happening on many fronts. In Washington State, for example, there's a two year program for qualification as a type of para-lawyer called a "Limited Legal License Technician." The requirements for licensure include, education,
    experience, and examinations meaning an associates degree or higher and a core curriculum: 45 credits at an approved paralegal program. No surprise, there's a practice area curriculum at University of Washington School of Law (live webcast) and a required 3,000 hours as a paralegal or legal assistant, including substantive legal work supervised by an attorney. There's a paralegal core competency exam and a practice area exam as well as a professional responsibility exam.

    Along with an array legal document preparers in many if not all jurisdictions, the lawyer cartel is being quickly broken up. What, then, is the point of law school and a six-figure tuition debt now that the legal services market is being subsumed?
    - Mo