Law Students

The Two-Year J.D. Program: A Critical Option for Some Students
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Summary: This success story and others like it prove that the two-year J.D. program is here to stay and beneficial for some law students.

Now that so many law graduates are struggling to find good jobs and carry their student loan debts, others are looking for new ways to avoid these pitfalls. In fact, a small percentage of students are now completing 24-month, accelerated J. D. programs. While some in the academic fear this trend – there’s actually very little to be concerned about. After all, most highly ranked law schools have long offered their students the option of finishing their work in 27 months. The fact remains that most students rarely choose that option.

What is new is that a number of highly capable students are now graduating from two-year, accelerated programs and are proving the value of 24-month J. D. programs. In fact, many of these students are landing excellent legal jobs right after law school. This clearly indicates that the supposed “drawback” of not having two summers for obtaining internships is not impeding the careers of these students.

  
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Two-Year J. D. Program Success Stories Continue to Unfold

Sutton Smith

Sutton Smith, University of Dayton Law School Graduate

Sutton Smith is one of the University of Dayton School of Law’s graduates who readily buckled down, studied hard and fully learned all he needed to initially know about the law while completing his school’s two-year J. D. degree program. He has now served for well over a year as a staff attorney for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Smith modestly notes that at least one other member of his accelerated program (a woman) is also currently serving in another federal circuit court in a similar position.

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At present, Mr. Smith says his accelerated program classmates are also working at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (in Cleveland, Ohio); with the national supermarket chain Kroger; and the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office (in Columbus, Ohio). In addition, three other classmates are now working in smaller firms with fewer than 10 attorneys – and another one has become a U. S. Air Force civilian contractor. Mr. Smith also says that another classmate is even running his own solo law firm – while also serving as an elected local official. All of these rather quick job placements might be envied by other schools only offering three-year J. D. programs.

On a more personal level, Smith says that he and his wife, now a nurse, felt it was critical for him to go through the accelerated program since she was also enrolled as a student at the same time. Today, they’ve already been able to welcome their first child into their family.



Other schools’ accelerated programs are just now starting to usher their graduates out into the work world, and should be able to offer their own success stories in the near future. Perhaps one key part of this success, at least according to an administrator working with the University of Dayton Law School accelerated program, is that they always carefully interview every applicant before admitting any of them into this intensive course of study.

Schools Currently Offering Two-Year J. D. Programs 

Although class size varies, many of these schools report having 30 or fewer students in each new class when it starts.

  • University of Dayton School of Law – Ohio
  • Brooklyn Law School – New York
  • Pepperdine University School of Law – California
  • Southwestern Law School – California
  • Vermont Law School
  • The Drexel University Kline School of Law – Pennsylvania
  • Gonzaga University School of Law – Washington. Gonzaga’s Communications Specialist Rachael Flores says that while the school’s two current classes of students completing accelerated two-year J. D. programs will be graduating in May of 2016 and May 2017 – Gonzaga has just now decided to put “on hold” any definite plans to enroll more students in their accelerated program – at least until the market for legal jobs rebounds considerably;
  • Regent University School of Law – Virginia
  • Washburn University School of Law – Kansas
  • Creighton University School of Law – Nebraska
  • Northwestern University School of Law – Chicago. This school’s accelerated program is no longer enrolling new students. One reason may be that too many of them may have expected lower fees. Of course, saving on one year of living expenses and being able to return to the job force a year earlier are still major advantages in the eyes of others.

Views of a Few Law School Deans, Administrators, and the ABA

As might be expected, one of this country’s wealthiest “Top Three” law schools chose to only comment without attribution. This representative simply stated the obvious – that their graduates rarely have trouble finding jobs and paying off their school debts. Fortunately, other law school administrators are a bit more open-minded about the possible need for some limited changes in the future.

Dean Ward Farnsworth of the University of Texas Law School in Austin said that while UT Law is unlikely to “be at the front of the line” to try out a two-year accelerated J. D. program, he would still “welcome rules that allow schools more flexibility to experiment with such approaches.” Of course, like many other highly ranked ABA-approved schools, UT has long offered its students the option of completing their J.D. degrees in as little as 27 months (yet few choose this accelerated approach).

Perhaps the success of two-year accelerated J. D. programs will always be tied to the careful selection of candidates as referenced above. Hopefully, every school offering such programs will create and maintain high screening standards.

During a brief conversation with American Bar Association employee Beverly R. Holmes, it became clear that the ABA is mostly concerned with making sure all J.D.  programs – whether they last for three years or for shorter time periods – fully comply with all applicable academic standards.

What Can Help to Ensure the Success of These Two-Year, Accelerated J. D. Programs?

  • The schools offering them should refrain from any type of tuition “price gouging.” One West Coast school is currently charging its two-year J.D. students over $140,000 for the privilege of graduating from their accelerated program. Hopefully every state bar association will carefully monitor all of their schools to be sure they’re not operating as over-priced diploma mills;
  • Law schools of every rank need to recognize that potential students come from highly diverse financial backgrounds. Although we claim to be a country that promotes justice and equality, we often prevent people with limited financial resources from pursuing their academic dreams. High quality, two-year J. D. programs can help even the playing field for many;
  • Each accelerated program must require basic first year legal courses, as well as a significant amount of clinical work with actual clients. The more practical these programs are, the more likely their students will succeed.

Since the average lawyer in America only earns about $77,000 a year – with many earning far less than that amount – our country must find new ways to keep law school fees reasonable. President Barack Obama, and a number of other accomplished attorneys, law professors and other professionals are correct in lending their support to two-year J.D. programs for some students.

Elizabeth Smith, J.D., M.A., is a freelance writer who has successfully written about general business, legal, medical, and consumer topics for over twenty years. She has also served as the author and co-author of two professional legal texts.

 



 

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