Two-year J.D. programs for foreign students are spiking

By Angela Morris 

The number of law schools offering a two-year J.D. program for international lawyers has grown steadily over the past eight years, with at least 26 such programs, and observers expect the trend to continue.

“I just think people are seeing there’s a market for it," said Amanda Wolfe, director of global programs at The University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson. "They see there’s demand. From our perspective, the other impetus behind this is it really adds to a richer experience in the classroom. We put a premium on an international experience here.”

Wolfe said Arizona Law had the nation’s first two-year J.D. for international lawyers, and each year since its launch in 2010, she’s noticed other schools launching their own programs. Both Wolfe and Andrew Horsfall, assistant dean of international programs at Syracuse University College of Law in New York, which launched its two-year J.D. for foreign attorneys in 2015, said they expect more such offerings.

“The J.D. allows students more time to be students and prepare for a bar exam,” Horsfall said. “It exposes them to more time in law school, which also places emphasis on building your professional persona and preparing to enter the legal profession. The legal job market in the U.S. is also more familiar and comfortable with a J.D. when hiring.”

While the programs may seem like potential moneymakers for law schools — particularly as U.S. student enrollment has been dropping — that’s not necessarily the case. Adding such students can be risky because their academic performances are part of the school’s measurables.

Horsfall said Syracuse Law keeps its two-year J.D. for international attorneys program small. It’s current and past students number just 10, and therefore the program doesn’t bring significant revenue to the law school.

“The program can be a great fit for the right student who has a strong academic background and seeks to pursue a professional career with a license to practice in the U.S.,” Horsfall said. “However, the stakes are quite high for law schools as performance by these students is measured within the J.D. program statistics reported to the ABA and [U.S. News & World Report]. We make very conservative admissions decisions so as to ensure high quality and potential for success.”

When a law school admits an international lawyer into a two-year J.D. program, the school grants the student one year of credit for his foreign law study as long as those courses would have counted for credit in the U.S. This practice is allowed by standards by the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits U.S. law schools.

During an international attorney’s first year at the U.S. law school, the student must take all of the regular first-year classes. Some schools offer a fixed curriculum the second year with just a few electives left up to the student, while other law schools grant more leeway for electives. After graduation, the student’s J.D. is no different than the law degree of a traditional law grad. Next, the international lawyer can sit for the bar exam and become a licensed U.S. attorney in any state.

Wolfe said that Arizona Law caps its program at 25 students per year. Since 2010, it’s graduated about 115 students, and currently has 42 enrolled. The average age of a student is 27; many hail from East Asia, although they’ve come from around the globe, from Japan to Poland to Ghana to Mexico, and many other nations.

In contrast to studying for an ultra-specialized LL.M., earning a J.D. gives an international lawyer a very solid, basic foundation in U.S. law, she said. While only a handful of states allow a foreign lawyer with an LL.M. to take the bar exam, having a J.D. gives access to the bar exam anywhere, opening the door to licensure in any U.S. jurisdiction.

“There can also be more opportunities for professional development,” she said. “We have a very good success rate in placing students in externship programs.”


Schools that offer a two-year J.D. include:

Brooklyn Law School in New York

Campbell University in Raleigh, N.C.

DePaul University in Chicago

Emory University School of Law in Atlanta

Florida International University College of Law 

Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in Chicago

Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad School of Law in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Seattle University School of Law

St. Louis University School of Law

Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla. 

Syracuse University College of Law in New York

Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, Central Islip, N.Y.

Tulane University Law School, New Orleans

The University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson

University at Buffalo School of Law, The State University of New York

University of Akron School of Law in Ohio

University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville

University of Hawai’I, William S. Richardson School of Law

University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City

University of Kansas School of Law in Lawrence

University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia

University of Toledo in Ohio

University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City

University of Washington School of Law in Seattle

Wake Forest School of Law in Winston-Salem, N.C.


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