Editorial: Is a third year of law school necessary?

The College of Law at West Virginia University ranks No. 83 out of the 194 accredited law schools in the land, according to the annual ranking by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Of the top 100 law schools, WVU had the third-lowest tuition at $17,568 per year. That is less than one-third of the most expensive school, Columbia. Likewise, the average member of WVU Law’s Class of 2013 graduated with a student loan debt of $75,000, which is considered low, the Register-Herald in Beckley reported.

This certainly is good news for the state because it means young lawyers will have more room to borrow money to buy homes, vehicles and the like.

But WVU could do even better by its law students by making the third-year of law school optional.

Studying seven years of college and law school to qualify to take the state Bar exam is a very long time. Some professors question the value of so much study to enter the legal profession, most notably Alan Dershowitz, who retired from Harvard Law School in December after 46 years of teaching there.

“I have long proposed a change in the structure of law school education whereby the academic portion would be completed in two years, and the third year would be focused specifically on the student’s career choice,” Dershowitz wrote last July.

“For those who want to become professors, the third year would consist of a mini-PhD program, with an emphasis on research, writing, and teaching; for those interested in government work, a supervised internship with a local, state, federal, or international organization; for those interested in practice, clinical training in the relevant areas of specialization.”

England offers law degrees in one year. Northwestern Law and Drexel University have two-year programs, but still charge for three. If you can pass the Bar in two years, is the third year necessary?

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