Accelerated program offers leg up to would-be lawyers

This month, PSU announced its partnership with Willamette University College of Law to offer an accelerated program that would allow students to complete both an undergraduate and law degree in only six years, rather than the traditional seven.

Called a 3+3 program, the model is similar to others across the country—allowing participants to complete their bachelor’s degree with credits for their first year of law school.

“We’re just combining those lag times into that middle year, allowing students to double up on some of those credits,” said Patrick Riedling, director of communications for Willamette’s College of Law. “But you will definitely work harder in those two years that come between.”

Willamette University College of Law already offers two accelerated degree programs, one with University of Alaska at Anchorage and one with its own undergraduate institution. Riedling said there are currently two law school students who were admitted from Willamette University’s undergraduate accelerated program, and that feedback has been good. However, he added, it’s not for everyone.

“This is really geared toward very forward thinking, academically aggressive students who are ready to take that next step,” said Riedling.

Lauren Cribb, a 3+3 program enrollee at Willamette, graduated high school while simultaneously completing an associate’s degree in 2012. Cribb chose Willamette for higher education based on the 3+3 program offering, knowing that law school was her ultimate goal.

“I probably started telling my parents I was going to be a lawyer one day when I was 11 or 12,” Cribb said. “I watched all the TV shows, I read all the books.”

At age 22, set to graduate law school next year, Cribb is well on her way to achieving her childhood goal. In total, she will have spent only five years at Willamette’s undergraduate and law schools obtaining her Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor law degree.

Now that she is done with her BA and fully immersed in law school, Cribb said her experience of coming from an accelerated program doesn’t differ greatly from that of someone who is referred to as “K through JD,” a term used to describe someone who goes nonstop from kindergarten to a JD without a gap year. Yet, she echoed Riedling’s sentiment that it’s not ideal for everybody.

“You lose some of your undergraduate experience, but if you know it’s what you want to do, it’s incredible to get into law school and make those connections even sooner,” Cribb said.

Tim Garrison, professor of history and pre-law coordinator at PSU, said the primary concern of students who come to him for advice is the high monetary cost of a JD.

“I try to figure out what a lawyer does that is attractive to them,” Garrison said. “For example, is it standing up and talking in front of people? There’s a lot of jobs where you can do that that don’t cost $200,000.”

Garrison noted that a key benefit of the 3+3 program is financial: By eliminating one year of student loans and entering the workforce sooner, students can decrease the expected debt of higher education.

But Garrison echoed Cribb’s thoughts that these savings come at a cost.

“In the 3+3 program, the year you’re giving up in undergrad is the year of experimentation,” Garrison said. “You’re giving up all those other courses that you take just to find out what you like.”

What it comes down to, said Garrison, is maturity. Essentially, students entering the program need to be 100 percent committed to law school from day one.

“You have to be really prepared to do this at the beginning,” Garrison said. “If you kind of messed around, experimented, took some electives…it’s going to be impossible to do it in six years.”

Garrison said existing PSU students could apply to the 3+3 program, but it would likely only benefit students who have prioritized PSU requirements over electives thus far in their undergraduate career. Primarily, the program is geared toward incoming students who, like Cribb, are set on becoming lawyers.

PSU is in the final stages of a similar 3+3 program partnership with Lewis and Clark. Both programs are imminent, and interested students can start on the 3+3 program track starting this fall.