How long is law school? It’s usually three years, but it doesn’t have to be. You can choose different pathways to either shorten or extend your time in law school. The pathway you choose depends on what kind of applicant you are. If you’re a traditional applicant, which means a recent university graduate, you might choose a traditional three-year program. If you’re a mature student, or a working professional, an accelerated two-year program might be more suitable. And you can also choose to go to law school part-time, or attend in an unconventional format like an online law school. Each of these pathways has distinct advantages, and disadvantages. This article will explore what those highlights and drawbacks are, what the difference is between the pathways, and what you need to excel in any of them.

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Article Contents
11 min read

How Long is Law School – Three Pathways Law School Admission Requirements Which Pathway is the Best? Pros and Cons Conclusion FAQs

How Long is Law School – Three Pathways

Even though a majority of law schools in the US and Canada use a three-year format for their JD programs, a few dozen schools in the US have also adopted two-year pathways – right now there are no accelerated, two-year JD programs at law schools in Canada. The two-year pathways have emerged for a variety of reasons. The reduced amount of time means you’ll have to pay less law school tuition, which will save you from having to take on massive debt to pay for law school. 

Two-year programs also save you time, obviously. They are a good option if you are a mature student and have been out of any academic environment for a long time. Two-year JD programs are also a good way for international students to earn a US law degree so they can practice in the US, as a foreign law degree is not acceptable to take state bar exams. With an accelerated program, foreign students can meet the requirements to take the bar without having to spend the time or money to do a typical, three-year JD program.

Going to law school part-time is the third option, and will usually extend your time in law school to four years; this pathway also has its pros and cons. Breaking up your studies over a longer time means there won’t be as much pressure, and you’ll have more time to do other things such as work, or attend to your familial responsibilities. A part-time program also costs less than a full-time, three-year or two-year program.

In the US, you can also take a dual-degree program, but the length and structure of these programs vary between different law schools. Some law schools offer a dual-degree as a bachelor/JD program, or a JD/MBA or a JD/LLM, so there are a lot of options, but you have to do your research on each program’s length, curriculum, extracurricular programs, and bar exam prep.


List of Law Schools with Two-Year Programs

1. Pepperdine Caruso School of Law

2. Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

3. Southwestern Law School

4. University of Kansas School of Law (for foreign-trained lawyers)

5. Creighton University School of Law

6. Albany Law School (two, three and four-year programs)

7. Suffolk University Law School

8. Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

9. Gonzaga University School of Law

List of Law Schools with Four-Year/Part-Time Programs

1. Touro University Law Center

2. Pace University School of Law

3. NSU Shepard Broad College of Law

4. University of Arkansas School of Law

5. Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

The three-year pathway is probably the one you’ll take. If you’re asking yourself, “should I go to law school?” and you’re still in your undergraduate program, you have a lot more to consider than how long law school is going to be. You should focus more on your post-graduate career and what you hope to accomplish, since a three-year JD degree will give you more cachet in the job market, as employers will look more favorably on your degree than a two-year JD.

How Long is Law School: Law School Admission Requirements

The admissions process for all the different pathways to a law degree are not that different from each other. In fact, some of the schools with accelerated two-year pathways require you to meet the law school requirements of the three-year JD program first, and then you can choose to enter the two-year stream. Typically, there is no unique admission process for accelerated programs, but each school does things differently, and they may ask for additional requirements or application materials.

The same applies to any of the four-year or three-year programs, which also have similar admissions requirements, and will ask you for a combination of the following:

There are also optional elements that some law schools will allow you to submit, if they add context or nuance to your main application package. These optional materials can include:

However, there is one application requirement that is particular to most all law school programs, both full-time and part-time, which is a law school interview.

You’ll be invited to a law school interview if your application is competitive and your admission will hinge on your interview performance. The interview is to see whether you have the right motivation and character to manage the JD program.

International Student Requirements for Law School

If you’re an international student, you’ll also have the same kinds of admission requirements, but, as is usually the case with foreign students, you might have to submit additional materials.

As an international student, you’ll have to get your foreign-degree verified by a credentialing service. 

You’ll also have to, like American and Canadian applicants, register with the Law School Admissions Council, and the Credential Assembly Service. The former is the organization that administers the LSAT and arranges the LSAT test dates; the latter is the organization that collects all your vital law school application materials (degrees, transcripts, letters, and essays) and submits them in a single package to your chosen law schools.

Which Pathway is the Best? Pros and Cons

Pros of a Two-Year JD Degree

1. Saves Time and Money

Saving you time and money is the most obvious advantage of taking a two-year JD program. By eliminating that extra third year, you not only save tuition and the cost of attendance, but you can get a head start on your law career by taking the bar exam to get your license sooner. The savings of both time and money are what two-year programs were created for, as it gives different students to accomplish their goals of getting law degree with a minimal investment of time and money.

2. Helps International Students Get Into Law School

International students often have a harder time getting into any professional school in the US or Canada for a variety of reasons, but a two-year JD degree eliminates the onerous requirements and fees usually placed on foreign-trained students. Fortunately, a two-year JD program at any of the above institutions does not require a significant investment of either time or money for foreign students, who can apply without taking any English language-proficiency test (program-dependent) and only have to submit the same materials as US or Canadian applicants. 

3. Helps you Start your Law Career Faster 

The three years of typical JD programs means that you have more time to decide on what you want to do after graduation. But what if you already know or have an idea of what you want to do? That’s what a two-year program can offer, which is why it is an attractive option to students who have stalled in their career and have desires to accede to a higher position, which usually requires having a JD. These are professional and accomplished people, and they do not need nor want the typical, on-campus student experience that goes with a three-year JD program. They have a clear set of goals, and a two-year program will let them accomplish them faster.

Cons of a Two-Year JD Degree

1. Lacks the “Law Student Experience”

While the “law student experience” may seem superfluous to the main goal of getting a JD, building a network of like-minded law students, alumni, and faculty is actually an important aspect of going to law school and becoming a lawyer. The connections you’ll make in your JD program can bear fruit in subsequent years through professional development or employment opportunities; but it is also valuable for the support and advice they can provide during tough times, personal or not. You could still create a network in two years, but the more time you have in your third year, means you can spend the time to nurture these relationships.

2. Limited Extracurricular Opportunities

One of the ways that programs shorten their three-year programs down to two years is by eliminating summer breaks and other scheduled time-off. This means, if you enter the two-year program, you won’t have the time to participate in law school extracurriculars such as interning or externing at law firms, working with your fellow students in mock trials, or writing and editing for a law school review or journal.

The dearth of these activities in a two-year program can impact your ability to get a job, as employers like to know what you did during law school that sets you apart from others. If you already have a job, and are taking a two-year course to increase your marketability or get promoted at your current employer, this won’t matter much to you. But a traditional law school applicant might need to have things activities on their law school resume to ensure they get hired .

3. Limited Employment Opportunities

This is not exactly a given, and there is little evidence to show whether a two-year or three-year degree really makes a difference when applying for jobs after graduation, but the assumption is that employers will look less favorably on a two-year JD than a three-year one. Why? The reason has to do with the fact that two-year programs, like online law school, are viewed with institutional bias by employers who assume that all job applicants will have followed the same route (university-law school-job). This is not to say that you won’t get a job at all with a two-year degree, but that it may be easier for someone with a three-year degree.

Pros of a Part-time/Four-Year JD Degree

1. More Flexible Schedule

A draw for students to part-time JD programs that take four years is the flexibility it gives you over your schedule. Usually, part-time law classes are given at various times throughout the day and during the weekend, which gives you many opportunities to participate based on your availability. You can continue working either full-time or part-time, attend to your other obligations, and still work towards earning your JD. 

2. More Time, Less Pressure

Two-year programs might be the accelerated pathway, but going to law school part-time is the decelerated pathway. Things slow down in a part-time JD program, which typically takes four years to complete. In a part-time program, you won’t have the added pressure of trying to figure out what you want to do with your law degree (like three-year students) right away. You can slowly figure things out and decide at your own pace what you want to do.

3. Makes it Easier to Pay for Law School

You might not be able to “save” money in the same way you would if you went to an online law school or two-year program. But what you may be able to do is spread out the financial burden of going to law school over a longer period, which may make it easier to pay for your education. The fee structure for part-time programs varies amongst all the schools that offer part-time education, but you’ll find that you usually have to pay the same amount in fees. 

Only, if you want to go to school part-time, it’s likely because you are already employed and already have an income stream. This is important, since two-year and three-year students are discouraged from working during their studies, which eliminates the possibility of them earning money (although they can also participate in work-study or co-op programs). Earning money during law school goes a long way to reducing or even eliminating your debt and helping you cover your costs.

Cons of a Part-Time JD Degree

1. Less Networking Opportunities than Full-Time Students

Being part-time means you will not be as involved in the “law student experience” as full-time students, who will have the time and opportunity to attend networking events, presentations, conferences, and other gatherings where they can create connections and form long-lasting, professional relationships. It’s not that you will be excluded from these, events, but as a part-time student your schedule might not allow you to attend them, although that is up to you as well.

2. Limited Options to Pay for Law School

We’ve talked about how doing law school part-time might be easier on your finances than a full-time program, but, unless you have other income streams like a part or full-time job, your access to funding sources, from public and private lenders, will be severely restricted. Many public loan programs give out less for part-time students than full-time students. Scholarships, bursaries and grants may also not be available to you if you are only enrolled full-time, as many of these funding sources making being a full-time student a requirement before you apply.

Here are some tips for writing a strong law school resume:

Pros of a Three-Year JD Degree

1. Looks More Attractive to Employers

A three-year degree is the standard for most law schools and employers will think you’re a more solid candidate if you’ve taken the three-year pathway. They won’t have questions about your education, employment history or experience. They also won’t question your commitment to the law if you have gone through the traditional, three-year route.

2. Gives you the Full Law Student Experience 

We’ve talked a lot about the “law student experience”, but what does it mean exactly? Well, it means that you will experience the things that three-year JD students take part in as a typical law student, which can mean anything from belonging to a student association, law review or journal, volunteering or working at a legal clinic, doing an internship or externship and networking with working lawyers or other legal professionals. Two-year or part-time students will often not have the time to do these extracurriculars.

Cons of a Three-Year JD Degree

1. The Cost 

One of the main reasons that law schools created two-year JD programs was to make law school a viable option for other student demographics who may be put off by the cost. Reducing the cost of getting a JD degree means that people from historically underrepresented groups can enter the profession. This, in turn, creates a more diverse pool of lawyers to serve various communities, rather than only people with the means to hire competent legal representation.


“How long is law school?” is a question you have to consider if you have other responsibilities and commitments in your life, but are still dead-set on earning your JD. It’s also important to ask if you are unsure whether you can carry the financial burden that comes with attending law school for the full-three years of a standard JD program. Hopefully, after reading this article you’ve discovered that there are multiple answers to this question, and that you have more flexibility in choosing a program that suits your lifestyle and financial situation.


1. How long is law school?

 Most JD programs in the US and Canada last for three years. But we’ve talked about how you can choose to complete your degree in two or four or five years. Many law schools in Canada, rather than introducing accelerated programs, have introduced programs longer than three years. The three years does not account for the time you spend getting a BA, as you will need either a full or partial BA to apply to these programs. Altogether, it can take seven years to become a lawyer; eight in Canada, as you must perform a year of articling (similar to a residency, but for lawyers) to apply for the bar exam.

2. Can I finish law school in less time?

Yes, but only in the US. There are no two-year programs in Canada, but there are part-time JD programs that will extend your time in your law school, not decrease it.

3. Are two-year programs worth it?

Two-year programs are worth it if they will help you get a law degree faster, and at less expense. There are some downsides to two-year degrees, but they do not outweigh the benefits.

4. Are part-time programs worth it?

They are worth it if you will benefit from the flexibility of the schedule, and the more time you have to pay for your studies. Remember that two-year and part-time programs are steps that law schools are taking to bring more diversity and give more opportunities to non-traditional law students, who do not have the same life circumstances as traditional law school applicants.

5. Is it hard to get into two-year programs?

You have to meet the same law school requirements as a regular, three-year JD program, and possibly interview about what your motivations are to pursue an accelerated degree, so it is not any more difficult than applying to a three-year program. But unlike 3-year medical schools that have minimum GPA and MCAT scores to be considered, you do not have to meet any extra or additional requirements to get into shorter JD programs.

6. Are two-year programs harder than three-year programs?

Harder is one way that you can classify two-year programs, because the schedule is more intensive. You won’t have any time-off and will probably study all year-round, so if you can survive non-stop studying, reading, and exams for two years, then you might have a shot. But academically, you will still receive the same type of instruction and material as three-year students, just in less time.

7. Should I do a two-year, three-year or part-time program?

The decision to choose a two-year, three-year, or part-time program depends entirely on the level of commitment you are able to give to getting a JD. You should choose the program that you can manage with the time and resources you have, which should be on par with the amount of effort and work you are willing to put into getting your degree.

8. Should I go to law school?

The question of “should I go to law school?” is something only you can answer. There are pros and cons of getting a law degree, usually more pros than cons, but if your heart is set on becoming a lawyer, then you should go. If you want to earn a lot of money and prestige, you could also go to law school, but you should have stronger motivations if you want to excel or enjoy the experience. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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