In a Law School Recession, How Washington and Lee is Thriving

By William Peacock, Esq. on February 01, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Yesterday, the ABA Journal reported that layoffs, and even closures, might be coming to some of our nation's many law schools. With the declining job market and exponentially rising tuition, the glitz and glamour of becoming versed in jurisprudence has waned, along with the number of law school applicants. In 2004, there were 100,000 applicants. This year, the expected number is somewhere around 53,000.

Meanwhile, Washington and Lee University's School of Law is having a problem with too many students. They have even resorted to asking students to take additional scholarships to defer a year, according to the ABA. Even with deferrals, the school enrolled 185 students last fall, or 50 more than usual. How is that possible in an age of unprecedented declining demand?

Some have speculated that the reason for the surge is W&L's innovative "Third Year Program." It certainly isn't the nightlife, even if Feb Club, the Palms, and late-night runs to Waffle House provided many great memories.

In the Third Year Program, traditional casebooks and sleeping 3Ls are replaced with clinics and simulated practicum courses. There is also a two-week "immersion" program at the beginning of each semester (one focuses on litigation, the other is transactional). Students are provided with a faux-client, case, and opposing counsel and proceed to tear each others' heads off.

To me, it all sounded a bit "hokey." You see, this blogger is a proud W&L alum, class of 2011 (take that as a disclaimer if you like). During my 2L year, depressed 3Ls had bemoaned some of the growing pains of the program in between complaining about employment prospects. I went into the program cynical and ready for the worst.

I then spent a year in simulations, sitting in a real court next to the Honorable Judge Swanson, and reading and drafting actual legal documents. It was, to put it simply, fun and intellectually stimulating.

Two years after graduating, I can honestly say that much of what we did during that third year actually helps in the real world. In the last month, two entertainment contracts have crossed my desk. Who would have thought that an Entertainment Law practicum would actually come in handy? Not me. I was just seeking to alleviate that expected boredom.

Recently, the State of New York considered eliminating the requirement of a third year of school before taking the bar exam, reports The New York Times. Wouldn't it be a better idea to turn the third year into a practice-based year full of clerking or given the lack of jobs, small-firm incubating? (Cutting tuition certainly wouldn't hurt either.)

Perhaps the Third Year Program is the secret of W&L's success or perhaps, given the schools' small enrollment, 2012 was simply a statistical anomaly. As a believer of the credo, "expect the worst - you'll never be disappointed," I expected little from the program and instead emerged with a year's experience in a courtroom and a wee bit of knowledge of entertainment and family law practice. It certainly beat sleeping through Constitutional Law II or Advanced Torts.

What do you think? Is W&L doing something right? Speak your mind on Facebook or Google +.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard