How Accelerated Law School Programs Work

Pros and Cons of the Two-year Law Degree

While earning a J.D. in two years may sound appealing to prospective students, the reality is, the programs are difficult to get into. If you recall, Northwestern's first accelerated J.D program had 27 students. Of those 27 students, 59 percent had graduate degrees with five holding an MBA and four a Ph.D. All 27 of these students had significant work experience, including a financial analyst from Merrill Lynch, a vice president at Deutsche Bank, the president and CEO of Windy City Builders and a lab manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In all, the median experience was six years and the median LSAT score was 170. Clearly it's tough to get into this program.

The cost of law school isn't cheap, regardless of duration. Northwestern's law school tuition doesn't differ between its accelerated and full programs. The accelerated program is pro-rated to fall inline with the regular J.D. program. As a result, each term costs 115 percent of what a term would cost in the three-year program.

Accelerated law programs also have their fair share of detractors. Some people believe the accelerated coursework will not properly prepare students for practicing law in the real world. Along with the argument that these programs are churning out inferior lawyers, students find the accelerated course load is a concern. With less time to stay ahead, students can also fall behind quickly and be unable to catch up. It's for this reason the Northwestern program requires two years of work history with the thought that students who have managed the daily responsibilities of work will be better prepared to handle the heavy school workload. It's also been pointed out universities with accelerated programs teach less but make the same amount of money from tuition.

Despite some of the downsides, accelerated J.D. programs have some obvious benefits. First and foremost, students that get a J.D. in two years instead of three get an early start on earning back some of the tuition money they shelled out. According to Time Magazine, first-year earners out of Northwestern earn at least $150,000 [source: Time].

If accelerated J.D. programs look too intimidating for you, but you're interested in maximizing your education and marketability, a similar option could be earning a J.D. and an MBA at the same time. Some schools offer joint degree programs. Georgia State University, for instance, offers a program geared to awarding both a Juris Doctor and a Master of Business Administration in a field of choice. Yale University recently added what it calls an Accelerated Integrated JD-MBA program. These programs aren't abbreviated, though -- both take three years to complete. The good news is, each program provides a broader education spectrum that could prove valuable in the work place. If you're going to go through the rigors of law school, why not pick up an MBA on the way if you can?

These programs offer unique challenges. If you think you have what it takes, check out the links below for more information.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Adam Smith Esq. "Northwestern Law School's "Accelerated JD" Program: It's Not About the Two Years." Dec. 10, 2009. (Feb. 2, 2010)
  • Britannica Online. "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi." (Feb. 1, 2010)
  • Columbia University. "Law - AILE (Accelerated Interdisciplinary Legal Education) Program." (Jan. 28, 2010)
  • Dell, Kristina. "Fast-Tracking Law School." Time Magazine. July 23, 2008. (Feb. 1, 2010),8599,1825863,00.html
  • Georgia State University College of Law. "Admission: Joint Degree Programs." (Jan. 29, 2010)>
  • Northwestern Law. "Accelerated JD Class Profile." (Jan. 28, 2010)
  • Occidental College. "Accelerated Interdisciplinary Legal Education (AILE) Program." (Jan. 28, 2010)
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  • Slater, Dan. "Barack Obama: The U.S.'s 44th President (and 25th Lawyer-President!)." The Wall Street Journal. Nov. 5, 2008. (Feb. 1, 2010)
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