Growing Pains: Stanford Law School's First Quarter System Ye

Published: Oct 21, 2009

 Education       Grad School       

For the 2009-2010 school year, Stanford Law School implemented its switch from a semester system to a quarter system. The school announced its plans this time last year, citing increased academic and clinical opportunities for students. "The chief impetus behind the move was to facilitate interdisciplinary opportunities for law students and make it easier for non-law students to take appropriate classes at the law school," Dean Larry Kramer told The Stanford Daily.

As the first year of quarters gets going, discussion of its pros and cons has been revived. In a statement to Above the Law, the school emphasizes the numerous academic benefits of the change, in particular the increased opportunity to participate in programs and courses that would otherwise be unattainable. In addition to the ability to take classes at the university's other schools, students will be able to take as many as 30 electives in their three years at Stanford Law--12 more than on the semester system. In addition, because the classes are shorter and the opportunity cost for each is lower, Stanford Law School will be able to offer a larger variety of classes on different topics as well as more hard skills courses like advanced writing and legal practice skills. With these new opportunities, students have the chance to get "greater breadth in their education or greater depth or a better combination of both."

However, as we're all too aware in this economy, earning a degree isn't just about taking great classes, it's also about getting a job after graduation. A year ago, Stanford Law students were concerned that the later end date (in the quarter system, classes and finals end in June, rather than May) would hurt their employment chances--both for summer associate and first-year associate positions. And now that the quarter system has finally arrived, students have a new concern: the bar. A SLS student tells Above the Law:

Classes do not end until several weeks after the California bar review courses start. Aside from the fact that this puts an extra burden on all SLS 3Ls, who will have to study for the bar at the same time they are attending classes and studying for finals, it creates a real mess for those students who are not remaining, or cannot remain in the immediate area to study for and take the California bar.

Studying for the bar is an intense, stressful experience, and anything extra responsibilities can make it feel overwhelming. To help ease the burden, Stanford Law School has used its top-tier pull to get students some extra help. "The Bar Bri folks in all four states [ed. California, New York, Texas and Illinois, where 95 percent of SLS students take the bar] agreed to run special courses for the Stanford students, which will begin on our schedule and still end with time to spare before the bar exam." And if you're part of the 5 percent taking another state's bar exam, there are iPod classes available.

Seems to me that the academic benefits outweigh the bar burdens of the new quarter system. Plus, if University of Chicago and University of Washington law students can juggle the quarter system with studying for the bar and getting a job, Stanford 3Ls can too.