Buying Time With A Two-Year J.D.

Since two-year J.D. students start in the summer, they get thrown into the fire right away. But Stranz, who spoke with me during finals season, doesn’t see it as a bad thing. “Our biggest advantage with the two-year J.D. group is that we already had a summer of finals and a summer of classes,” she says. “We had our first final yesterday for our ‘first-year classes’”—i.e., classes with the regular 1Ls—“and I felt like I went into it knowing what to expect.” Still, she admits that the other students had the advantage of “coming in a little bit more fresh.”
Of course, not everyone makes it through successfully. “There’s a little bit of an attrition rate,” Ravid says. But Southwestern and Brooklyn Law have options for students who, for whatever reason, can’t handle the work. At Southwestern, if a SCALE student has a GPA of 2.7 or below after one year, he or she is required to complete the program in two-and-a-half years (for the same cost); students can also choose to take that route on their own. There’s also an ungraded academic support class for students who don’t do well in the first quarter. At Brooklyn Law, if something were to come up—such as getting an attractive summer job, or winning the Powerball and taking a three-month trip to Costa Rica, Allard jokes—the student would be able to extend the program to three or even four years.
There is one question that remains largely unresolved: How do employers view students who finish in two years?
Stranz has received mixed reactions while looking for opportunities. The best response: “Wow, I wish I had that option.” But the worst responses have been discouraging. “The most hostile is mostly, ‘Why would you do that?’” she says. “It hasn’t been super negative, but some people just don’t quite get it. They almost think we’re not doing the full work—like, ‘Oh, you’re cheating your way out of a year.’”
Stranz also touches on the pressure of having little time to gain workplace experience. “The biggest disadvantage for us is that we only have one summer to do our externship,” Stranz says. “Instead of having two, where usually your first summer you do a judicial clerkship and then the second you take more of a law firm route or business route—looking for job prospects, we only have one, so that’s been a struggle.” Still, she’s taking a pragmatic view of the situation. “I would be in school for another year, so if it takes me another year to do an internship or try to find a job or find my dream job, I would’ve been in school anyways,” she says.
But Ravid, who’s already a 2L, is confident about her prospects. So far, she’s managed to snag externships with the judge on the Michael Jackson trial and with the California Supreme Court. She’s already in talks with a firm.
The fact that SCALE has been around for so long—and the fact that SCALE students take almost all their classes with each other—makes for an especially valuable network. “What happens is, a group goes to a particular location, the justices meet the students, and they go, ‘Oh, these are wonderful students—would you send us more in the next year?’” Rolnick says. “So we’ve created some little niches.” There’s a current niche in the Nevada Supreme Court.
Tiller says there isn’t much of a difference in job placement between regular and AJD students. 62.4% of Northwestern’s Class of 2011 went to firms with more than 500 lawyers, so it’s safe to say Big Law is a popular option. Allard takes things a step further, noting that he’s seen special interest in Brooklyn Law’s not-yet-existent two-year J.D. students. “Anecdotal evidence stinks, but I’m hearing anecdotally from law firms and other employers that are calling me up and saying, ‘We are very interested in those students that you’re going to be having—they sound like they’re very motivated and hardworking,’” he says.
Though they haven’t committed to anything yet, some employers have floated a plan for taking these graduates on. “They will hire them provisionally at the time that they graduate, they will permit them to study for and take the bar, then they will begin work after they take the bar and work three or four or six months,” Allard says. “Then, the firm—based on that work experience—will decide whether to hire these provisional new lawyers on a full-time basis.”
That’s not the ideal scenario, though. The J.D. has been attractive for so long because it is a symbol of job security; the setup Allard describes is much more precarious. But perhaps that’s simply the way the legal field is going. If so, spending six months in a temporary job seems like a better option than spending a year in the temporary safety of a classroom.