Pritzker School of Law set to graduate its final accelerated degree class in 2017

Erica Snow, Reporter

John Prinzivalli didn’t initially see himself going to law school. After marriage and five years of consulting work, however, he realized he wanted to go into law, but didn’t want to spend three years out of the workforce earning his law degree.

The two-year accelerated law degree program at Pritzker School of Law, he said, seemed made just for him.

“At end of the day, law school really is an expensive, time-consuming credentialing process,” Prinzivalli said. “It’s a hoop to jump through to go from being a pre-law applicant to being a lawyer. In my eyes, I wanted to make sure the only metric that mattered to me was job placement statistics.”

The accelerated law program at Northwestern was created in 2009 to attract students like Prinzivalli with more work experience who would not have otherwise attended law school, said Don Rebstock, associate dean of strategic initiatives. The diversity in student experience and background enhanced the program, which compressed three years, or six semesters, of coursework into five semesters by starting a summer early, he said.

Prinzivalli is a member of the class of 2016 — one of the last graduating classes of the program. Dean Daniel Rodriguez announced in October 2015 the program would be suspended indefinitely. Despite the predictions of the program’s creators, Rebstock said there was not enough applicant demand to grow classes to 40 students. Prinzivalli said his class has 16 students.

“As it was conceived, it was an excellent idea; it was an excellent experiment and innovation designed to attract people who were highly motivated,” Rebstock said. “We were able to attract and enroll some terrific students. The problem is that we weren’t able to attract and enroll enough of them.”

Prinzivalli said he appreciated the program’s rigorous schedule. The third year of traditional law school can often be seen as a waste of time, Prinzivalli said, but the accelerated law program’s two years readied him for the work force.

One aspect of the program Leigh Jahnig said she enjoyed was the opportunity to work for a law clinic. Writing for the law review was also a beneficial experience, she said. She added that the law school, though rigorous, allowed her to be surrounded by enthusiastic peers.

“There are just so many options at Northwestern,” Jahnig said. “You really feel like you have the opportunity to learn whatever you want to learn. There’s always demand for new and interesting things to learn and incorporate the law. That’s really the key that enables the students to take control of their education.”

Although the accelerated law program may not be offered in the future, the School of Law continues to innovate and offer its students interactive ways to learn about law, School of Law Prof. Martin Redish said. Opportunities in a student’s last year include a senior research program under the direction of professors and a clinical program that could connect them to a wrongful conviction team, or another client that would benefit from law students’ assistance, he added. Some of the research projects have been turned into co-authored articles published in top law journals, with many student co-authors turning into “great practitioners,” Redish said.

“We are about as innovative as any law school in the country in our pedagogy and our intersection of the intellectual part of law and the practice of law,” he said. “The (accelerated law) program was one of those experiments — it ultimately just didn’t work. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to continue to experiment or take advantage of the experiments that have worked, like the senior research program and our clinical program.”

Law schools must continue to educate students in multiple disciplines to prepare them for the demands of the changing workforce, said James Lupo, director of the School of Law’s Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation. The accelerated law program was a case of bad timing, he added, and the program’s creators could not have predicted class sizes would be less than half the projected size.

In the future, Lupo said he will conduct research with many external sources and professionals from a variety of backgrounds to see how the law school’s curriculum can be modified to best meet the market’s demands. For the first time this May, small teams of these professionals will meet at the School of Law and present their findings and recommendations.

“What we’re hearing from senior attorneys, clients, corporate legal operations … they’re emphasizing things such as the need to become better, more sophisticated and strategic partners with clients,” Lupo said. “The law school does an excellent job at thinking about our curriculum, but market forces require us to increase our focus on thinking about curricular design and implementation.”

The headline of this article was updated Friday at 4:45 p.m. to clarify that the accelerated law degree program will graduate its final class in 2017.

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