Get Ready for Express Lawyers

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The first year of law school is notoriously difficult, but other than lining up employment, what exactly happens during the third? Given that even professional litigators have a hard time coming up with a good answer, at least one school has decided to eliminate the year of living lazily. Starting next summer, attorneys-in-training at the University of Dayton will be able to complete coursework in two years, rather than the traditional three. The accelerated program—just approved by the American Bar Association—is the first of its kind in the U.S. But rival law schools like Northwestern, Pepperdine, and Washington University are already studying Dayton's model and considering similar reductions.

Dayton's five-semester option will save students on fees and living expenses, and enable them to hit the work world sooner than their peers in traditional programs. The school insists the new curriculum will be no less rigorous than the three-year program, but merely condensed and presented more quickly. Indeed, admissions criteria will be tougher for the expedited class to make sure applicants are up to the quickened pace. Some 80 fast learners are expected the first year. So if they can shave off a year from their studies, does that mean they'll pass along the cost savings to starter clients by lowering hourly rates? Don't bet on it. But seasoned legal experts aren't automatically nixing the concept. Says one veteran litigator, "You don't learn anything in the third year of law school anyway, so they may as well shorten it." In any case, long-winded professors seemingly need not apply.