November 15, 2012
Prediction For Law Schools Is Cloudy With Chance Of Closings
Paul Campos is at it again. His latest article in Business Insider compares the 2007 economic crash with coming law school enrollment crisis. It’s not a pretty picture. He sees law school applications on an alarming downward trajectory to the point where law schools will either not be able to fill their seats or in the alternative will lower admission standards to the point where they will admit anyone just to fill the seats. I should make the point that the ABA frowns on tuition mills when applying the accreditation standards to law schools. If Campos’ prediction comes remotely true, and I’m not arguing against it by any means, few schools will care. It will be a matter of survival. Campos expects some schools to go out of business.
His statistics show these numbers:
Total applicants, 2003-2004 cycle: 98,700
Total first year enrollment: 48,239
Percentage of ABA law school applicants who ended up enrolling in that cycle: 48.9%
Total applicants, 2011-2012 cycle: 68,000
Total first year enrollment: 48,697
Percentage of applicants who ended up enrolling last cycle: 71.6%
You can see where this is going. We obviously don’t have the numbers for the current academic year. However, the LSAC shows double-digit declines in applicants for each admissions cycle since 2010 and the lowest number of LSATs administered since before 2003 in the last academic cycle. The job market for law graduates continues to be dismal. Joe and I both reported on how the number of available law jobs in the next ten years has already been outstripped by the current number of graduates. See here and here for details.
I don’t see how anyone could possible want to open a new law school under these conditions. Nonetheless, Bradley University in Illinois is the most recent institution to study the option. This is from the Peoria Star:
"I think there's opportunity, even if the times are difficult," says study-group member James Shadid, chief U.S. district judge for the Central District of Illinois, based in Peoria and encompassing 46 counties. "But if we're going to be like all the rest, then there's no reason to be there. So, the discussion has centered on, how can we be different?"
Shadid and the rest of the team focused on a law school's viability only in terms of potential enrollment, education and employment. The next step would involve economic and fund-raising realities. But from a classroom perspective, the future looks brightly optimistic, advocates say.
"I'm excited about the idea," Shadid says. "Whether it happens remains to be seen."
Competition may come from other sources as well. Business Insider also reports that Northwestern University Professor John McGinnis advocates dropping the required number of course hours for the graduate law program from 80 to 60. He further advocates that law could be an undergraduate subject that leads to the bar exam. I can imagine the traditionalists among law school faculty shuddering at that thought. Undergraduate faculty members, after all, are compensated far less than their graduate law counterparts. Bette Davis said it best: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride night. [MG]