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Time to consider two-year law degrees

|Written By Kathryn Marshall
Time to consider two-year law degrees
Photo: Gavin Young

To get ahead in a crowded field you need to stand out. That’s true for businesses, athletes, brands, and even law schools.

Over the past few years, the number of law faculties in Canada has expanded, with Trinity Western University being the latest to announce its plans to open a law school. While there is ongoing debate over the need for new schools amid reports of students struggling to find articling placements, the demand for law studies remains strong.

Instead of opening more traditional three-year programs, what Canada should do is introduce an accelerated law degree program.

A shorter two-year program would appeal to a market of future lawyers different from the norm. Older students in their late 20s, 30s, and even 40s looking for a change in career but hesitant about going back to the classroom for three years, plus a year of articling, would likely be attracted to a fast-track program.

The difference between a two- and three-year program may not be a big deal when you’re fresh out of undergrad, but when you’re older and may already have a family, mortgage, and career, time is more valuable and the decision to take a step back from those crucial earning years to further your education is much harder.

As you age, the opportunity cost of education increases — the difference between a two- or three-year program could be a deal breaker for some people.

Other professional programs have already gone the route of modifying their schedules to shave off time. Many business schools now offer one-year MBA programs geared to mid-career professionals, and some medical schools offer a fast-track MD program.

Canadian law schools have been making changes to their programs, but many are making them longer, not shorter. While new combined degree programs are very attractive, they lengthen instead of shorten time in the classroom.

While this is great news for students who want to get an MBA or master’s degree while in law school, what about students who are only interested in an LLB/JD, and want to earn it as quickly as they can?

Unlike some other professional degrees, law school is very much defined by the “full university experience.” Any graduate can tell you law school isn’t just about learning how to be a lawyer. The campus life, moots, clubs, study-abroad programs, guest speakers, and rugby are a big part of it. The law schools know it, too — just look at any law school’s promotional material.

In many law schools, there’s as much emphasis on studying the law as a discipline as there is on learning practical lawyering skills. The traditional three-year degree program gives students time to pursue elective courses like legal philosophy and comparative law, and get the most out of the extracurricular student life.

These activities certainly enrich a legal education, however not all students —especially older students — are looking to have a full university experience when they go to law school.

Some students simply want to get their law degree and begin work as soon as possible. Since many students do not summer at firms, a two-year program could be run by slotting in an extra term during each summer. It’s a market need that has not been filled in Canada.

Several U.S. law schools have already begun to offer two-year accelerated law programs. Northwestern Law in Chicago, considered a top-tier school, has a fast-track JD program that offers courses geared more towards the work environment, like accounting and leadership, and requires at least two years’ professional work experience before admission.

A shortened JD program wouldn’t just be for the benefit of students, it would benefit the legal field as well by attracting a market of potential lawyers who already have some work experience in management and leadership, which they can contribute to the field early on.

An accelerated program would also recruit students who have probably taken more time to really consider whether law is the right career path for them, which could reduce attrition and dropout rates.

There’s lots of talk these days about how law schools can evolve to meet the needs of a changing economy and legal market. How about changing to meet the needs of a new generation of workers who are more likely to change careers instead of sticking with the first thing they did right out of school?

With these new law schools opening up in Canada, introducing a two-year degree program could be a great way to differentiate from the pack and offer a unique legal education experience.

Kathryn Marshall is an articling student in Vancouver. She can be reached at kathryn at

  • firefighter

    Paul Donnelly
    I am a 46 Year old firefighter who would be interested in finding information regarding the possibility of a career change in law. Is it possible.
  • firefighter

    Paul Donnelly
    Is it possible at 46 to move on and follow the career of choice.
  • What is its intention for?

    John Tao
    Several weeks ago, the Superior Court just took a hearing of the dispute between Trinity University and the Law Society of Upper Canada, which is now holding a control on a "passport" to the schools and students who seek for two years' program of law study. The LSUC is currently governed by a group who don't know law but know managing funds well. I don't see any changes since several years in promoting the law system renovation or progress of law study program. In stead, too many paralegal grads filled in the legal practice every year by paying more test fee that poured into the money bag of the LSUC. It took 4-6 months for a simple internal investigation on a complaint but took several times of paralegal certificate test in a year! I feel the members of managing team of LSUC are the most from finance grad but not law school.
  • RE: Time to consider two-year law degrees

    For those students who are motivated, two-year law degrees are already possible. A number of Canadian law school, including McGill, offer summer law courses whose creditse can then be transferred back towards one's degree. Provided one takes a full course load in first and second year, and supplements this with visiting credits (or credits at one's own law school if it is one of the ones which offers summer courses) during the summers after each of those years, I do not see why one could not do a two-year degree right now.
  • Are law schools still a necessity?

    I am in my last year of undergrad and I am heading into a law school. As I turn back I see nothing more than 4 years of wasting time and money on something that would hardly help me in future. Undergrad, law school, articling, 7 years of practice and then becoming a partner... honestly, this is a huge waste of time and money. Shouldn't all that is taught in a law school be applied directly in the Universities already?! Business faculties can restrict other students from taking courses in their programs and the also leave as workers while we study until 60.
  • Quakes Industry

    mukhtiar Dahiya
    Years ago, two years law degree has been tried in India successfully for academic reasons but to juggle with public fortunes in courts a three year law degree is needed. For those considering legal practice seriously in third year syllabus courses like moot court, legal drafting and pleadings etc. are moved to train and save students humiliation and year of articling.
  • RE: Time to consider two-year law degrees

    Students participating in an accelerated JD program take the same classes and earn the same credits, but take fewer breaks by attending year-round. Some schools also offer a 2 1/2 year option so that students may spend one summer at an internship instead of in classes.