January 31, 2013
More On The Drop In Law School Applicants
The news about law school admissions plummeting compared to the last two years has generated some commentary from outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, the American Bar Journal, and other worthwhile news sources. The general themes seem to be: law school is expensive (we know this); there aren’t enough good jobs to pay off the immense debt generated by three years of law school (we know this as well); and law schools do not teach the right set of skills and/or lasts too long (open to a valid debate). There is little, if any sympathy for law schools.
The point of discussion that got my interest was the natural outcome of a shrinking enrollment, which is contraction in the legal education business. I’ve suggested this myself in earlier posts, but now commentators are starting to put projected numbers to the coming decline. The Atlantic projects 40,000 students enrolling this fall. The New York Times quotes Brian Tamanaha offering about 38,000 enrollees. As late as the middle of last December The ABA Journal quoted Paul Campos projecting between 52,000 and 53,000 incoming students noting that schools admitted 60,400 two years ago. Campos doesn’t put up any revised numbers in his article in today’s Business Insider. He does cite the New York Times without questioning the figures, however.
Law schools should expect a significant drop in revenue considering that the average tuition is $40,500 for a private law school and $23,600 for a public law school. Let’s assume an average tuition of $30,000 and the worst case of 38,000 compared to 60,400. That would be loss of $672 million in revenue. Something in the infrastructure has to give. The Times quotes Brian Leiter as projecting the closure of as many as 10 law schools in the next 10 years with the rest of the bunch reducing class size, faculty, and staff. The Times notes this is already going on at the Vermont School of Law through buyouts. There is a correction stating the original version of the story included faculty and staff, but so far its only staff. Something is going to give and when it does it’s going to be ugly.
There is one story that shows the trend doesn’t apply to one law school. Washington & Lee (ranked #24 by U.S. News) is deferring some enrollments from this year to next with cash incentives to the deferred. The suggested reason is the school’s emphasis on practical skills. The content of the law school curriculum is always part of the debate, but let’s see if they get jobs when they get out. [MG]
My question is: where exactly are the tens of thousands of people who have decided not to pursue law going? Presumably they lack job ready skills as they were interested in attending law school, which now lacks ROI sense. Do you have any insight? Will these people simply become part of the ever growing underemployed pie?
Posted by: Peter | Feb 6, 2013 5:49:01 PM