How Accelerated Law School Programs Work

A Law Degree in Two Years Instead of Three

If you're really eager to argue a case in front of a judge, then perhaps you should investigate a two-year law program.
If you're really eager to argue a case in front of a judge, then perhaps you should investigate a two-year law program.

Obtaining a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) at law school is a commitment similar to becoming a medical doctor. A J.D. traditionally takes three years in addition to earning a bachelors degree and programs vary at different schools. For instance, at Pennsylvania University, students are required to take nine classes their first year and 55 credit hours from a list of classes over their next two. The course work at other law schools is similar even if the classes are offered in semesters or quarters. The bottom line is, it takes seven years of consistent schooling to get your law degree. That trend is changing however, now that several schools are offering accelerated law degree programs.

What if you could get a law degree in just six years? The Columbia Law School in New York City offers an accelerated interdisciplinary legal education (AILE) program that does just that. The AILE program works in conjunction with four-year universities around the United States. The program at Columbia is geared toward fast-track students. Those seeking admission are required to complete six semesters of full-time residence and 85 credit hours or be eligible through the school's network off affiliated colleges and universities.

Other schools offer similar programs. In May 2009, Northwestern University in Chicago announced an accelerated J.D. program geared to award students with their degree in two years. The Northwestern program isn't a condensed version of its J.D. program. Instead of the coursework laid out in six semesters, students earn their law degrees in five.

These programs take a more practical approach to law education. For instance, Northwestern's program has additional classes intended to cover quantitative analysis (accounting and principals of finance) and the study of legal services behavior (with an emphasis on leadership and project management) not found in the tradition J.D. program. In addition, students must have two years of legitimate work experience.

Here's a look at the requirements for Northwestern's accelerated J.D. program:

  1. Application form
  2. Updated resume
  3. Interview
  4. Successful passing of the LSAT or GMAT
  5. Two years substantial work experience
  6. Transcripts
  7. Three 500-word essays

The first class was limited to 40 (37 students were admitted) with 65 spots available in subsequent classes. Of those 37 admitted to the first class, 27 enrolled out of 135 applicants.

Columbia's program is limited to one or two students from each school participating in the AIEL program (there are 28 schools so far) and accepted juniors matriculate over to the law school to begin that part of the curriculum [source: Occidental College]. Admission requirements are similar and students hoping to enter the AIEL must prepare early in their collegiate career.

With every new and innovative trend comes two sides of support. Rarely do people universally agree on everything. Accelerated law programs are no different. Let's look at some of the positives and negatives surrounding these programs in the next section.