Declaration against interest from an institutional standpoint as dean, but I am strongy drawn to Sam Estreicher's "back to the future" suggestion of an option for students sitting for the bar after two years. Such a system, if adopted, would respond in some meaningful way to student debt issues, allowing the financially burdened student to postpone -- or, in some instances, avoid entirely -- the third year and the corresponding tuition costs.
My suspicion is that most legal employers, and certainly the leading law firms, would continue to expect a law degree as a condition for employment. (Whether this would be accomplished in two or three years remains an open question. My law school, Northwestern, is currently the only top law school with a 2-year JD option). Indeed, they would depend upon the educational training that law students would get from the additional 25-30 credits and would insist on that despite the student's bar passage. That said, the ability of a student to move directly into practice, particularly in areas which would meet the woefully under-met demand by lower and middle class individuals for legal service, would create more opportunity.
Moreover, this scheme would put more good pressure on law schools to justify the work of the third year. Estreicher is convinced that this third year would be used principally for practical skills training and would move law schools away from academic intentions. I am not so convinced. Yes, some schools would run their entire third year as a clinic. Others would outsource the third year for supervised externships. However, some schools would continue to promote more academically-oriented programming, perhaps emphasizing specialities and the kind of cumulative learning that would facilitate students' career objectives. A small number of schools would provide opportunities, such as joint degrees and such, for students who aim toward academic careers. In short, we would see salutary diversity among schools -- and, to the point of the proposal, more accommodation to students' financial needs and dilemmas. Law students would vote with their wallets. And law schools would respond to market demand. This is all to the good.