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by Vault Law Editors | July 08, 2008


Having recently noted the announcement of Northwestern University School of Law’s new accelerated JD program as well some of the initial reactions to it, last week we spoke to the school’s dean, David Van Zandt, to get his take.


In fact, the two-year vs three-year dichotomy sounds a bit more dramatic than the reality, since students enrolled in the two-year program will take the same number of credit hours as those in the traditional three-year program, only over five semesters instead of six. Moreover, from NU’s perspective, the compression aspect, on which many critics have focused, may be less significant than the opportunity to try out a new curriculum that focuses on “foundational competencies”, including communication, teamwork, strategic understanding, basic quantitative skills, cross-cultural work, project management and leadership.


Asked whether an accelerated program might jeopardize the quality of lawyers who graduate and/or result in a draining experience for students, Dean Van Zandt suggested that on both counts it’s really a question of time management. The accelerated program is likely to attract students who have substantial work experience and are already good time managers. Candidates will be required to have had at least two years prior work experience, preferably three, that demonstrate maturity, responsibility and leadership. Without disputing that law school is an “intense experience,” it’s hard to argue that most students don’t still manage to waste a fair amount of time. For those who are more driven, or more efficient, the compression option may be very attractive.


In response to the question of whether law students in the two-year program will be at a disadvantage during the Fall OCI process, in which they will be participating after only one semester—while those in the traditional three-year curriculum will have already had two semesters and a summer of work experience—Dean Van Zandt said that this same question was posed to employers in focus groups and the general consensus was that it wouldn’t be a problem.


In fact, some employers might be even more inclined to hire such students because participation in an accelerated program is evidence of focus, drive and real-world experience. As Van Zandt says, these students already “know what work is about.”  Moreover, by the time they actually get to summer associate evaluations, both the two-year and the three-year students will have taken a similar number of credit hours and can be judged on their performance at the firm.


If all goes well, Dean Van Zandt says, the program, which will begin with about 40 students, will go up to the normal section size of 60 to 65 students. Meanwhile, for traditionalists (or less gifted time managers), the school still offers four sections in the three-year program.

– posted by vera


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