Northwestern’s Third Year

As reported at Above the Law and TaxProf, Northwestern has announced a program that allows its students to complete their legal degrees in two years instead of the usual three. Upon inspection, the two-year program is less revolutionary than it initially sounds. As described by Inside Higher Ed, the two-year program is an accelerated version of the usual fare, with students taking the same courses and credit hours as those in the three-year program.

The two-year option may have stolen the headlines, but what Northwestern announced about its third year is at least as interesting. Northwestern will allow students to spend a semester in full-time experiential programs, such as legal clinics and law firm apprenticeships. The move comes on the heels of the Carnegie Report, which urged law schools to incorporate a practical skills component wherever possible and to think creatively about the third year. Last March Washington and Lee responded by making all third-year courses experiential. While Northwestern has not gone this far, its experiential semester is likely to make its competitors follow suit. (Fear not, aspiring professors. Northwestern will have “research opportunities” available for you.)

P.S. The talk of practical skills reminded me of “reading the law,” or becoming a lawyer through apprenticeship, without ever going to law school. I had thought that reading the law was only of historical interest. But a little surfing revealed what many readers probably already know: four states still allow people to become lawyers after extended apprenticeships (provided they pass the bar exam). You can get the overview here.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Deven says:


    Love the posts in general.

    As for this topic, the mobblog on legal education I organized and Madisonian hosted has several posts on the topic. Also my post about having a teaching law firm gets into the topic. In short, whether these moves will train new attorneys better and what the contours of the experiential model are seem to be in flux. Insofar as firms think law school can create a fully ready to pracitce (thus reduced cost to the firm attorney) the move may miss the mark.



  2. k says:

    Just to note, students at NU currently can spend a full semester working with a professor on a research project and get 14 hours of credit for it, so the “research opportunities” part is not new. (I know very few students able to take advantage of that, though, as it requires a nearly equal commitment from the supervising faculty member, and I can’t imagine that would change–NU seems, unfortunately, less interested in facilitating future academics in this way than future General Counsels.)