Harvard Law School Library in Langdell Hall at night. (Photo: Chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons)


College juniors around the globe will soon have the chance to snag a seat at Harvard Law School—with a catch.

They must first graduate and work for two years before showing up on the law campus. The school announced Wednesday that it is expanding a three-year-old pilot program that allows juniors at Harvard College to apply and gain early admission with the agreement that they work, study, complete a fellowship or conduct research for at least two years after finishing their undergraduate degrees and before starting their legal studies. Beginning in the fall, juniors from any college or university, as well as their international equivalents, are eligible for the school’s Junior Deferral Program.

It’s believed to be the first program of its kind at a U.S. law school, said Jessica Soban, associate dean for admissions and strategic initiatives. Harvard does not have a set number of juniors it’s looking to admit next year, she added, saying the size of the program will depend on the number and quality of applicants.

“The Junior Deferral Program is one of many efforts underway here to remove barriers as we seek the most talented candidates for law and leadership,” said law dean Martha Minow in an announcement of the program’s expansion. “By offering admission to the most promising college juniors, we can encourage them to pursue important and fulfilling experiences without concerns about effects on a later application to law school.”

Expanding the Junior Deferral Program is Harvard Law’s latest move to widen and diversify its applicant pool. Next year the school will accept GRE scores in addition to LSAT scores, becoming only the second law school to embrace the alternative test. (The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law was the first.) That change is intended to draw applicants who are also considering other graduate programs, and particularly those with STEM backgrounds, which refers to science, technology, engineering and math. Juniors who apply early can submit either a GRE or LSAT score.

Similarly, the Junior Deferral Program is meant to appeal to students interested in math and science because they can gain real-world experience in those areas then bring their technical expertise into the legal field. Demand for lawyers with experience in patents, biotechnology, and other science and technology-related practices is on the rise, according to the school.

Legal employers are increasingly looking to hire law students with some work experience, Soban said, and those experiences make for richer classroom discourse. “Having someone who can draw on their real-world experiences or who can draw on a difficult client situation, that’s something that’s really valuable and makes the classroom discussion much more robust,” she said.

Students with work experience also tend to have a better understanding of what they want and don’t want to do in their legal careers, she added.

The first cohort of Harvard juniors admitted through the Junior Deferral Program will arrive on campus in the fall. Soban declined to discuss the number of applicants or the number of students admitted through the pilot, saying it was much smaller in scope than what they expect moving forward.

Those admitted in the initial cohort have pursued a variety of opportunities during the past two years.

“We have students who are pursuing public interest work with think tanks, or doing direct advocacy work,” Soban said. “We have people doing more corporate and private sector work, whether they are consulting or in finance. We also have students who are pursuing scholarship or other graduate work.”

One student with a martial arts background has been working as a Hollywood stunt double and as a paralegal.

“This program is allowing people to pursue their passions in ways that may not be available if they didn’t already have their pathway to law school set,” Soban said.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ