By Kaitlin Ugolik
In only its third year, Brooklyn Law School’s Accelerated Two-Year J.D. program is already proving to be a success, as evidenced by the students who are excelling in academics, externships, summer associate positions, full-time jobs at prestigious firms,
in coveted government and other public service positions, and in business. One of only a handful of similar programs in the nation, the AJD launched in 2014 and is among the most recent innovations at the Law School.
The AJD allows students to earn their degree and enter the job market on a fast track, while taking advantage of the Law School’s broad programs and numerous opportunities. It’s a concept that was strongly endorsed by then president Barack Obama, who said in 2013, “I believe that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years.”
The AJD has answered that call, quickly becoming an appealing option for students who wish to earn a J.D. in an intensive 24-month program. Flexibility in earning a J.D. is nothing new at Brooklyn; the Law School has long offered a four-year degree program that enables students to continue working full time while taking classes at night. If traditional students find they need a bit more time to earn their J.D., they can extend their curriculum to three and a half years or four years, and even some of those on the two-year fast track have chosen to extend their time to complete their degree.
“The Law School has a real focus on flexibility, and on students being able to create the curriculum that works for them, including the amount of time they need to earn their J.D.,” said Vice Dean and Professor William Araiza. “Having a two-year program is an extension of that focus on flexibility.”
Prospective students who are mid-career, hold an advanced degree in another subject, or are recent college graduates with a definite idea of how they would like to use a law degree are all prime candidates for the AJD. The curriculum begins in May with a session that includes three critical first-year classes: Torts, Criminal Law, and Professional Responsibility. After their first summer of intensive courses, they join new first-year students in classes in the fall semester. There are also short intensive sessions in January and May and summer externships that help students reach the 85-credit threshold required for graduation. The AJD students can take advantage of all the same academic opportunities as three- and four-year students.
The first class of AJD students graduated last May and today they are working as associates at large and mid-size law firms; in public sector jobs, including assistant district attorney and New York City law department positions; and in financial compliance for international banking, among other positions.
William Meehan ’16 spent almost 10 years at financial media company Minyanville Media before deciding to make a career change, spurred largely by the option of finishing a legal education in two years.
“That was the thing that made me consider going to law school. I didn’t even apply to other places,” said Meehan, who is now an associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. At the time, his wife, Alicia Brooks Meehan ’07, was working at the Law School in the admissions department; she alerted him to the new program. A vague idea about someday going to law school suddenly turned into a plan. Meehan did his externship in Nielsen’s in-house commercial transactions group and spent time during his second year working with the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic (BLIP). He ultimately leveraged his experience working on a website and newsletters geared toward the financial markets to earn a spot in Akin Gump’s funds group.
“While interviewing, [the AJD program] was a big focus; people wanted to know more about it, and they were impressed by it,” he said. “It shows that you are a hard worker and not afraid of a challenge.”
Meehan took the customization a bit further when his wife accepted a job at Boston University. He attended the school as a visiting student for his final semester and was able to transfer the credits to Brooklyn Law School to meet his degree requirements.
“Brooklyn Law School was great in terms of ironing out certain issues that may not have been anticipated,” he said. “I ultimately ended up at the place in my career where I would have hoped.”
Dr. Guy Regev ’16 was a physician prior to joining the first AJD class. Coming from a family of attorneys and physicians, he said he chose to marry the two careers to fully honor the Hippocratic Oath, in which physicians promise to keep the sick from both harm and injustice. In his training, Regev realized the toll that medical malpractice often takes on patients and saw a need for more attorneys who truly understand both medicine and the law.
“The reason I went to law school is the same reason I went to medical school: I believe that helping those who are in need is the most gratifying action a human can take,” Regev said.
Regev credits his current position as an associate in the medical malpractice law firm of Gary A. Zucker & Associates to the Law School’s externship program. Despite completing their academic requirements on a compressed schedule, AJD students are still able—and, in fact, strongly encouraged—to take an externship during their second summer to meet the Law School’s experiential credit requirements and get a better sense of what they want to do with their degree after graduating.
“Because of the two-year program, I could get involved with things at the firm early on, and now I am rapidly gaining experience as a trial lawyer,” Regev said, adding that he already has performed complex depositions and other litigation work that attorneys typically don’t do until they are further into their careers.
The reason I went to law school is the same reason I went to medical school: I believe that helping those who are in need is the most gratifying action a human can take." - Dr. Guy Regev '16
“Guy is a successful doctor and obviously had the work ethic to accomplish all of this work in two years,” said Araiza, who oversees the program’s curriculum. “The AJD students are ambitious, they’re hardworking, and they’ve proven that they can do a lot of work in a short amount of time—these are the people who are succeeding in the program.”
The AJD program isn’t only for people with career experience. Julia Harvey ’16 had recently graduated from Fairfield University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (which she also completed on an accelerated track) before coming to the Law School.
“The two-year program is made for students who know exactly why they are pursuing a law degree and what they are going to do with it,” she said.
While at the Law School, Harvey participated in the Immigration Clinic at the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York with Adjunct Professor Scott Dunn, who she says helped reinforce her commitment to becoming a public-sector lawyer. She also was a member of the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial, and Commercial Law.
She was ecstatic to get an offer from the New York City Law Department, which she joined in September as assistant corporation counsel. Harvey is already writing motions, holding discovery conferences with adversaries, responding to discovery demands, and serving as a second chair during trials.
“I absolutely love what I do,” she said, adding that she believes any student can excel in the program if he or she employs good time management and prioritization skills.
A Fast Track with Flexible Options
As the experience of the first class of AJDs bears out, flexibility is the watchword for the program, as it adapts to the students’ needs and recommendations. For example, students found they could handle more coursework in their first summer, and adjustments were made. This year for the first time AJD students also will be able to take electives during their first year, and they will be eligible for the Law School’s summer abroad programs.
Claire Wasserman ’18 said she has benefited from changes to the curriculum. Wasserman came to the Law School after eight years in the music and technology industries, ready to dive headlong into a legal education that would get her closer to working in public service law.
“It was really around my 30th birthday, after I moved back to New York from San Francisco, that I started reevaluating and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “I was impatient. I wanted the degree and knew what I wanted to be doing.”
She set out in search of an accelerated program, and ultimately it was the Law School’s affiliation with the Exoneration Initiative through the BLS/EXI Innocence Clinic that helped to cement her decision.
The pace has been intense. “The no-break thing is real,” she said of the year-round schedule. “It’s very much like a job.” Wasserman is serving as a research assistant to Professor Anita Bernstein and working on two pro bono projects: one at the New York Supreme Court’s Center Help Center for Unrepresented Persons and one with the National Lawyers Guild’s Prison Law Project.
“My experience in a startup probably helps, because I worked in an environment every day where I needed to multitask,” she said.
After graduating from Princeton University, Robert Engelke ’17 spent five years as a trader, first at Weeden & Co. and then at Barclays Capital, but he felt his skills might be better used in the legal realm.
“I had a good career and wasn’t certain about making a change, but the two-year program made it a lot easier to take that leap,” he said.
Now Engelke is looking forward to getting back to work. After he graduates in May, he will be a summer associate at Fried Frank, gaining valuable experience in a Big Law practice. Ultimately, he hopes to return to the corporate world in a management capacity.
With a family and an eagerness to get back into the working world quickly, Lawrence Gallina ’18 said the AJD program was the only way he could make law school work. “Shaving off that extra year really is beneficial to someone my age, at my point in my career,” he said.
Gallina spent 12 years working for the federal government, first as a contracting officer and then for 10 years as a targeting analyst, but reached a point at which upward mobility seemed limited. He arrived at the Law School with plans to pursue employment law. But recently his interest unexpectedly has turned to family law. “I feel like it would be more rewarding to move in that direction, to be able to help children,” he said.
He has found that prospective employers are enthusiastic about the AJD. “A lot of employers are getting used to the program and know what to expect from us,” Gallina said.
A former broadcast journalist, Brian Hoffman ’17 has taken advantage of the program’s flexibility. He plunged headfirst into all the Law School had to offer, making it onto the Moot Court Honor Society, working with the pro bono Suspension Representation Project, and serving as a research assistant. Last summer he was offered a paid position with the personal injury firm Salenger, Sack Kimmel & Bavaro, where Marvin Salenger ’65 and Jeffrey Kimmel ’91 are partners. It was a great opportunity but taking a paid job and not earning credits was a tradeoff that Hoffman had to consider. He ultimately decided the experience was worth it, and he extended his time at the Law School by a half year.
The summer job helped him decide that he wanted to be a trial lawyer doing civil litigation. “It was the best thing for me at the time,” he said. “The fact that the school is not so rigid about what you need to do makes it such a good program.”
While David Choi ’17 extended his program to three years, he said the AJD “lit a fire” under him and pushed him to find an area of the law about which he could feel passionate. Choi, who recently accepted a position with the Bronx District Attorney, came to the Law School without a clear idea of what he wanted to do with his law degree. So he completed five internships: at the EEOC New York District Office; Michael Gunzburg PC, a personal injury firm; the Kings County DA; the New York County DA; and the SEC.
“I always wanted more of a hands-on feel for how the law is executed and treated in the real world,” Choi said. “One of the benefits of the program is that it really forces you to not waste your time.”
“I am grateful to the first several classes of AJD students because they have been very helpful in giving us information about what is working and what could be improved,” said Dean Allard. “Every year we are tweaking the program and we are making it better. We’re excited about its continued success.”