Buying Time With A Two-Year J.D.

SCALE students in class

Students in Southwestern Law School’s SCALE Program sit in lecture.

When few law school grads faced the prospect of long-term, debt-ridden unemployment, people rarely questioned the idea that it takes three years to get a J.D. But full-time legal jobs have become increasingly scarce, and tuition has shot up to unprecedented levels: In 2012, the average J.D. cost $40,500 a year at a private school and $23,600 a year at a public school. Brian Z. Tamanaha, author of “Failing Law Schools,” concluded that 90% of today’s law students take on debt to make it through school. In 2011, the average private law school student graduated owing nearly $125,000. The number was $75,700 for public school grads—about $6,000 more than what the average private school grad owed back in 2001.

Now that law school is no longer widely accepted as a sound investment, the three-year J.D. has stopped being a given, too—especially since the third year tends to be full of electives. “It was in my third year on one of those many, many afternoons playing softball in the sun at Yale that I got the idea for the two-year J.D.,” Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas W. Allard jokes. Even President Obama, a former law school lecturer at the University of Chicago, has pushed law schools to consider shorter programs: “Now, the question is, can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year? My suspicion is, if they thought creatively about it, they probably could,” Obama said.

In fact, they have: Two-year J.D. programs already exist, and they’re growing in numbers. As of right now, there are nearly a dozen of them in 10 different states: three in standalone law schools and eight in larger universities. Though Southwestern Law School’s two-year J.D. program—called SCALE—has been around since 1975, most have popped up more recently. Northwestern started its Accelerated J.D. (AJD) program in May 2009, right when things started looking grim for law school graduates. Pepperdine’s two-year program was launched just last summer, and Brooklyn Law’s program is still accepting applicants for its first class, which will start in May 2014. Allard says he’s seen a very strong response—“and it’s not even the time when most applications come in,” he adds. He believes that in five years, there will be 50 to 75 law schools offering a two-year option.

Schools Offering Accelerated JD Degrees

 

School

Location

Tuition

Brooklyn Law School

New York

$1,795 per credit

Southwestern Law School

California

$63,460 (First Year)

$69,484 (Second Year)

Pepperdine University School of Law School

California

$1,715 per credit

Northwestern University School of Law

Illinois

$31,900 (Summer)

$65,714 (Fall/Spring)

Washburn University School of Law

Kansas

 $627 per credit (Kansas Res.)

$979 per credit (Non-Res.)

Creighton University School of Law

Nebraska

 $16,473 (Six Semesters)

University of Dayton School of Law

Ohio

 $1,125 per credit

Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University

Pennsylvania

 $1,341 per credit

Regent University School of Law

Virginia

$1,110 per credit

Vermont Law School

Vermont

 $46,110 (Yearly)

Gonzaga University School of Law

Washington

$1,212 per credit