President Obama, a lawyer who once lectured at the University of Chicago, recently urged law schools to reduce the length of study from three years to two:

President Obama urged law schools on Friday to consider cutting a year of classroom instruction, wading into a hotly debated issue inside the beleaguered legal academy. “This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck. I am in my second term, so I can say it,” Mr. Obama said at a town hall-style meeting at Binghamton University in New York. “I believe that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years.”

Obama was right to say that two years of law school is plenty. Three years is too long. In fact, you could learn everything you need to pass the bar exam in a few months. Many lawyers have been saying this for years. Third-year law school classes usually cover materials that aren’t tested for on the bar exam anyway. (Admittedly, law school courses can still have value in training lawyers even if they cover subjects not on the bar exam, since the bar exam tests knowledge at a very basic level. But such knowledge can generally be obtained more efficiently by working for a law firm as a junior attorney, clerk, or paralegal.)

At Above the Law, Elie Mystal urges Obama to turn his words into meaningful actions, by having Education Department accreditation regulators open the door to two-year law-school programs, which are currently impeded by federally-approved law-school accreditors. (“The accreditation standards of the American Bar Association’s section on legal education require law schools to have an academic program that typically lasts three years. The ABA has resisted changing those standards.”) Such law school accreditors use their accreditation requirements to require law schools to operate more expensively, such as offering unnecessary library collections, and teacher tenure for faculty who are no longer very productive.

Two of America’s most frequently quoted law professors, Stephen Bainbridge and Eugene Volokh, suggest additional ways of reducing the length of lawyer education. Professor Bainbridge suggests making law an undergraduate degree. Professor Volokh suggests allowing people to go to law school after studying long enough to get an associate’s degree rather than a bachelor’s degree.

As a lawyer, I would go further and argue that people should be able to sit for the bar exam without any law school attendance at all. I explained back in 2011 why this would benefit the public and the legal system at this link. Moreover, the growth of law schools can be harmful to the economy.

Ironically, federal income-based repayment programs effectively encourage prolonged law school study, and rapid increases in tuition, by wiping out all student loan debt for certain favored borrowers beyond a certain amount of indebtedness, at taxpayer expense, a system that law schools like Georgetown have figured out how to game at an enormous potential cost to taxpayers of well over $100,000 per student. (The Washington Post earlier explained “how Georgetown Law gets Uncle Sam to pay” some of “its students’ bills” — such as those who plan to work for the government or a progressive legal defense fund for ten years — at a cost averaging $158,888 over three years, by taking advantage of perverse incentives in a federal student-loan program.) The Obama Administration has previously sought to make these programs even more costly to taxpayers by making ill-conceived changes to the tax code and student-loan programs.