Why spend three years on a law degree when you can do it in two? Northwestern University plans to offer a compressed, five-semester program starting in 2009. Open to 40 students, the new track would require one summer of coursework and heavier course loads each term to complete the same number of credit hours as a traditional three-year program, making Northwestern the only top-tier law school to offer both two- and three-year tracks, says Dean David Van Zandt.
The program is designed to tap into a new group of potential applicants with extensive full-time, post-college job experience—it requires a minimum of two years—who in the past could not afford to be out of the workforce for a full three years. "We think there may be a good number of people who wanted to apply to law school before and now think it might be worthwhile," Van Zandt says.
But don't expect to see other top schools follow in Northwestern's footsteps, says Brian Leiter, chair of law at the University of Texas and editor of the popular blog Brian Leiter's Law School Reports. He says many colleges have permitted motivated students to take summer classes and graduate early for years and considers the new program Northwestern's attempt to distinguish itself from other elite institutions. "I think it's an interesting experiment and may turn out to serve their students very well, but I don't think anyone's going to jump to follow suit," he says.