March 23, 2012
Could It Be That Law School Programs Are About To Shrink?
A nod to the History Channel for the headline. I watch way too much of Ancient Aliens. There is news on the announcement from the Law School Admissions Council about the number of LSAT test takers in the 2010-2011 exam period dropping by 16% compared to the year before. The number of test takers is slightly south of 130,000. This is on top of an almost 10% drop in test takers from the year before that. I’d like to take this as a sign that prospective law students are critically weighing their chances of a successful law career against the investment (read debt load). And that’s a good thing, what with the loss of legal jobs and those pesky lawsuits. Should the law schools be worried? Perhaps.
The number of seats in the first year class in the 200 law schools for the 2009-2010 academic year is 51,646. The number of applicants breaks out to 2.51 applicant per seat. That doesn't give admission directors much leeway if they intend to maintain that level of class size, at least without diluting things like average LSAT score and likely average GPA. There's always pressure to get the highest student numbers for working up the rankings, if not bragging rights.
The top schools will have no problems picking the best applicants no matter how this turns out. The bottom schools will have to consider shrinking their program or in the alternative, lower their student body quality. A smaller pool of applicants will give those with lower scores more options to attend better schools. Eitehr option, lowering the quality of student or eliminating seats will certainly cement the position of some law schools in the lower tiers of the U.S. News rankings. A lot of this depends, of course, on different factors such as the mobility of the applicant pool, loyalty to a particular program, legacy admissions, and the like. Still, the lower numbers will mean fewer law students no matter what.
The business of running a law school is going to take a financial hit if the trend with these numbers continue. What will university presidents do when the coming revenue numbers don’t match historical chargeback levels they impose on their law schools? [MG]