Northwestern University will offer an accelerated two-year JD degree program beginning in 2009, hoping to attract highly motivated students who might otherwise have considered a two-year MBA program or others interested in fast-tracking a law degree. The two-year program will require the same number of credits as the traditional three-year program, relying on a compressed five-semester period. Students in the accelerated program will receive the same summer job and permanent employment opportunities and benefits available to the three-year JD students.
The accelerated program is part of a series of new initiatives at Northwestern that the school hopes will “maximize its graduates’ success in the changing worlds of the legal profession and the clients it serves.” To achieve this, the program will emphasize many core competencies normally associated with business school, and both the accelerated and the 3-year JD programs will require courses in quantitative analysis (accounting, finance and statistics); dynamics of legal services behavior (involving social networks, teamwork, leadership and project management), and strategic decision-making (improving students’ ability to understand the strategies pursued by their clients and organizations).
David Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern University School of Law, said that these newly required core competencies will “complement the traditional law school focus on case law analysis. . . In other words, the plan stresses competencies to which most law schools pay little attention but industry leaders agree are critical for success in today’s legal careers.” These include project management, communication skills, cross-cultural sensitivity, leadership and strategic understanding.
Accordingly, academic and work experience qualifications for the accelerated program will be somewhat higher than for the three-year program. They will include a minimum of two years of post-graduate work experience and some significant project management and leadership experience, according to Don Rebstock, Associate Dean of Enrollment, Career Strategy, and Marketing. In fact, a career progress evaluation form must also be completed by a recommender who can speak to the candidate’s specific competencies. Personal interviews will also be required, as well as answers to three specific essay questions, in addition to the personal statement.
Over time, Northwestern hopes to incorporate additional business skills into the JD curriculum, through a program they call “Plan 2008: Preparing Great Leaders for the Changing World.” These include an emphasis on oral and written communication skills, legal reasoning and analysis, cross-cultural teamwork, and an “experiential” semester through Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, practicums or internships at nonprofit, non-governmental or government agencies in the U.S. and abroad, or in apprenticeships with non-U.S. law firms.