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Three-year law school deserves second look amid upheaval

A massive market failure. That’s what University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos likes to call the current price structure for legal education, and it’s hard to disagree: Elite law programs now charge upwards of $50,000 per year, a price that’s doubled over the past two decades. Law students enrolling this fall will graduate with an average of $200,000 in debt, heading into an employment market with scarcely more than one job for every two newly minted lawyers. Amid this economic collapse, the legal profession should welcome creative solutions, big or small.

President Obama offered his own off-the-cuff fix recently when, in speaking about college affordability, he challenged the current convention of the three-year law school. Obama proposed shortening it to two years; the traditional third year of classroom learning would be better used, he suggested, if aspiring lawyers gained practical experience through, for example, a low-paying legal apprenticeship or judicial clerkship.

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