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Obama suggests law schools consider barring third year

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 3:14 am

President Barack Obama’s statement about two weeks ago that law schools should be only two years may not be far-fetched, and a similar concept could appear at UF’s Levin College of Law.

UF students aren’t encouraged to take the bar exam after two years because they wouldn’t be ready, said law school Dean Robert Jerry. But the idea of changing the third and final year of law school to be more hands-on has already been discussed by the administration.

“We would make the third year a curriculum of problem solving,” Jerry said.

Currently, problem-solving skills are spread throughout the three years instead of concentrated in one final year.

He said the first two years would remain in the traditional classroom format to learn the knowledge necessary to practice law. In the last year, there would be opportunities for real practice settings such as in law firms or simulated situations in class.

“There is the possibility of major changes in the upper division,” said Jerry.

He said the two major issues facing law schools are cost of education and skills training.

Florida public law schools are considered affordable. He said law schools in other states can cost about $50,000. The concept of a two-year program would reduce that cost, but at the expense of training students, he said. That is where the hands-on third year comes in.

Law students also see merits to more practice in law school.

“From what I know, the third year is not as involved as an externship or internship,” said Andy Schein, 22, a first-year law student. Schein said he is in agreement with Obama’s statement because two years of traditional school would be better for preparation and more cost-effective.

But law programs might not stop at two years.

Jerry said there is a market for one-year law programs.

The degree, a master of law, would be ideal for those who do not want to practice law but want to increase their knowledge of law for other jobs such as for a new principal who wants to be familiar with education law.

Jerry said the one-year program is also something that could be seen in the future for UF.

“I’m prepared to advocate in addition to what the president said. There is a need for a program where people can enhance their knowledge of law,” he said.

A version of this story ran on page 4 on 9/5/2013 under the headline "Obama suggests law schools consider barring third year"

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