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Law schools heed the call for 2-year degree

American Bar Association President James Silkenat

Look For Innovations for Modern-Age Legal Careers

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Earlier this month, United States President Barack Obama noted during a speech that it would "probably be wise" for law schools to veer away from a three-year juris doctor program and implement opportunities for students to earn a law degree within two years. Brooklyn Law School (BLS) was ahead of Obama's curve, having announced plans for a two-year program in May.

With Obama forcing the topic into national discourse, BLS recently hosted a panel discussion on a shorter law program and other innovations to reduce the cost of a legal education and ways to prepare new lawyers for the new world ahead.

"We have to keep the trajectory going," Richard Eng, presiding justice of the Appellate Division of the 2nd Department, said in opening remarks.  "The legal market wants lawyers who can hit the ground running."

A two-year law degree is one of the innovations proffered to further the momentum. "Brooklyn Law School is trying to adapt to some of the trends," BLS Dean Nicholas Allard said.  Introducing an overview of the program, BLS Vice Dean Dana Brakeman Reiser noted that the "elite program"  is not intended for very student. "This is for the student who wants to get a rigorous, top-notch legal education," she said.

Second-year law school student Mark Walsh agreed. Speaking with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Walsh said that for the "right person, this is a good idea.  I think that someone who may have been out of school for a while and who wants to get into the field of law, or maybe already has a network in the legal field, may feel that they are able to complete a law degree in two years,” he said.

For Walsh, the idea does not appeal to him directly. "I do not think that this is particularly for me," he noted. "But, more power to those who think that they are able to complete a two-year program."

While BLS is the first to host a large-scale panel discussion on the idea, it is not the first to provide a two-year law degree program. In April, the State of New York University at Buffalo Law School (SUNY Buffalo) announced that it will permit foreign lawyers an opportunity to obtain their law degree in an accelerated two year program.

BLS's program, however would be open to all applicants, and not strictly for individuals with foreign law degrees.

New York Law School has also jumped in the fray and will begin offering a two-year program in January 2015. NYLS characterizes its program as an honors program for those with at least two years of professional work experience.

A further difference is the cost. While BLS will still require participants in its two-year program to pay for a full three-year program, NYLS will provide scholarships to reduce tuition by a third.

A consensus reached by the panelists was that a two-year program will not reduce the amount of credits or requirements presently needed to obtain a law degree. "I'm not prepared to say we need a two-year law school," said New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.

Either way, changes are being made and are ideas are being proposed and experimented. "American legal education is by far the best in the world," noted American Bar Association President James Silkenat. "But  it needs to evolve to match up with the changes ... that are taking place in practice. And law schools need to match up with those changes."

September 9, 2013 - 10:30am


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