AJD '15 here, chiming in with my two cents. Haven't read through everything on this board - apologies in advance if it's redundant. This post is mainly for people who are considering NU AJD w/scholarship vs. three year programs, which is the boat I was in last year.
1) In my opinion, the biggest advantage of the AJD program is taking your 1L classes with less than 30 students. Sections at NU are "small" relative to other schools anyway (~65), but 28 people is an incredibly unique opportunity to ease in to law school, feel more comfortable participating in class, make sure professors know who you are etc. I also personally like the regular schedule of the summer. It was predictable and I didn't find it overwhelming. Taking three finals in one week is undeniably rough, but again, I chalk the summer semester up as a big PLUS for the program. Also - Law school is challenging, and five finals periods is better than six, just as two calendar years of stress is better than three years.
2) Comparing the 3 yr programs: I was seriously considering three year programs, most specifically CCN. I came to NU mainly bc of the generous scholarship. I'll be honest, I've gone back and forth on whether or not I made the right choice. Ultimately, I think I did, for two reasons. First, even if you get a comparable scholarship at a three year program, you're foregoing around $160k in that first year's salary if BigLaw or a significant net positive salary even if not BigLaw. Next, I think it would have been totally self-indulgent for me to forego the scholarship in order to go to a school with a more traditionally prestigious program.
I say this because going to the NU AJD program does NOT mean foregoing any law school opportunities you would otherwise have had. Sometimes there are a couple more barriers, yes, like the hectic nature of the writing competition for journal at the end of the summer. But you have all the opportunities available to you- if you're already gunning for law review, think from now about reserving the last week in Aug to attack that writing competition with all you've got. If you're already certain that you want to clerk, study hard all summer and fall. If you're less sure about what you want to do, you do have time to experiment with courses, clinics, and externships (which are a good way to supplement your legal resume in place of a 1L job).
The mere possibility of liking another school's "ethos" better (how I felt about NYU) wasn't enough to make me think that I should risk a quarter of a million in debt. I would have had a lot more regrets if I had hated law school and was living so deeply in the red for three years.
3) The negatives: integrating into the "general population" of JDs can be a bit strange. NU law students are really friendly, but everyone else will have a whole year of student life together that in a sense you totally miss out on. Just something to think about if being really involved in student life is super important to you. (As a counter to that, the level of familiarity/friendliness the small AJD class has is unique and makes up for it, in my opinion).
Also, taking 17/credits a semester and being in curved classes with students who are taking 14 can put a chip on your shoulder. (but again, just be wise about your class choices and you'll be fine)
4) Personal work experience/goals: Public interest background, I was not planning to go into BigLaw, but I ended up doing OCI and will be summering at a firm. NU Law is in the top five for BigLaw placement, and AJD students reflect that percentage. If you don't want to do BigLaw, there are a wealth of government internships (including state prosecutor, USAO stuff) and public interest fellowships for the summer that you can apply for. If clerkships are on your mind, judicial externships are probably a good idea. If you do want to do BigLaw, I think that it's much less about the program and much more about your personal interview technique and bidding wisely. Make sure you have a compelling narrative that ties your work experience to why you are in law school, and how that all translates to working for the specific firm. All of the top firms recruit at NU, with a few exceptions (and I know that NU students have gotten jobs there anyway - WLRK/Debevoise).
CAVEAT: If you are totally committed, 100%, to doing public interest work, you should go to the best school you get into, whether highest ranked or best in your specialty area or whatnot, and sign up for the loan repayment assistance program. No or little debt because of LRAP at a T5 >no/little debt bc of scholarship at NU Law, imho.
Overall: Is doing the program a bit of a risk if presented with higher-ranked three year alternatives? Yes. In light of a scholarship? Not as much. Do I regret this? No.
Wow this is so long. Let me know if you have questions!