Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Despite some optimistic voices, enrollment at regional law schools is down

For those keeping track, here's the second report in nearly as many weeks from a local newspaper reporting on the decline in applications at regional law schools. This time it's the Ohio law schools feeling the chilly winds of change. From the Dayton Daily News:

Enrollment Down at Ohio Law Schools

Fewer people are applying to law schools in Ohio, a sign that some students are uncertain of job prospects after graduating and lack faith in the ability of legal careers to pay off the substantial debt often required to get a law degree, according to state and national legal associations.

The number of applicants to the University of Dayton School of Law fell 18.4 percent this year to 1,751, and the school is admitting fewer students in order to maintain the academic quality of the student body, UD officials said. UD School of Law Dean Paul McGreal said the job market
for legal professionals should improve when the economy rebounds, but a shrinking demand for lawyers could lead to changes
in the number of law schools or graduates. “If, in the long term, there are going to be fewer legal employment opportunities, then the legal education market will have to contract the number of graduates,” he said.

“That happens in one of two ways: Either each law school accepts fewer students and has a smaller class size, or there are fewer law schools — and the market will dictate which it will be, and maybe it is a combination of both.”

Limited prospects for law students

About 2,311 Ohioans applied for the fall semester to U.S. law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, down 12.5 percent from 2,641 applicants in 2010 and down 19 percent from 2,853 applicants in 2009, according to preliminary data from the Law School Admission Council.

Nationally, the number of people who applied for the fall semester to ABA law schools was 78,900, a decrease of about 10 percent from fall 2010, according to the council. The drop came after law schools nationwide saw two years of growth in the number of applicants.

The number of applicants to UD School of Law was 1,751 this year, down from 2,147 in 2010, 2,097 in 2009 and 2,230 in 2008, according to the school. The school enrolled 177 students this year, a decrease from 207 in 2010.

UD School of Law enrolled fewer students to adjust to the decrease in applicants, McGreal said. He said this was necessary in order to maintain the bar-passage rate and academic quality of the new classes.

The declines in applicants reflect the weak state of the job market for legal professionals, which has been battered by the economic crisis, said Carol Seubert Marx, president of the Ohio State Bar Association.

Seubert Marx said big firms are hiring fewer lawyers and laying off others,
 because the businesses they represent are reducing their legal costs and performing more legal services in-house.

She said also more people are choosing to represent themselves in court or opting not to sue because of the expense involved in hiring an attorney.

The employment rate for new law school graduates in 2010 was 87.6 percent, the lowest percentage in 14 years, according to the National Association for Law Placement.

Even more alarming is the fact that 27 percent of the jobs were temporary and 11 percent were part time, said James Leipold, the association’s executive director. Only about 68.4 percent of graduates obtained jobs where passage of the bar exam was required.

With the job market for legal professionals contracting, some students are weighing the costs of law school with the prospective earnings from a legal career and deciding it is not worth the money, Seubert Marx said.

“You can make a comfortable income, but if you factor in that debt, which kids are having to do now, it all of the sudden becomes a mortgage on your future,” she said.

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