Monday, January 28, 2013

Total law school applications may fall to 30 year low

For as long as records have been kept, this is looking to be the lowest number of total law school applications (made worse by the fact that there are now 26 more accredited law schools than in 1983 when such records began being collected).  The National Law Journal has the story.

Avoiding law school in droves

The numbers of applicants may slump by 38 percent.

Nearly everyone in legal education expected the number of law school applicants to fall off this academic year. But they weren't prepared for this.

As of mid-January, 27,891 people had applied for seats in American Bar Association-accredited law schools. That represented a 20 percent decline since last year (and 2012 was hardly a banner year itself, as the number of applicants fell by nearly 14 percent.) If the trend holds through the final months of the admission cycle, law schools would see a 38 percent crash since their peak in 2010.

"I am surprised by the extent of the decline," said University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Jerome Organ, who has been tracking law school enrollment and economic trends. "I had anticipated a decline, but possibly a more moderate decline than the last two years."

It looks like one for the record books: Upon seeing the application figures from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law professor Deborah Jones Merritt decided to research the last time U.S. law schools had attracted such a small applicant pool. She couldn't find records before 1983, but at no time during the past 30 years had the applicant totals slipped below 60,000. (There were 175 ABA-accredited law schools during the early 1980s; there now are 201.)

. . . .

"It's become clear that there is no chance of redemption for this cycle," said Sarah Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for admissions, financial aid and career planning at the University of Michigan Law School. "The December LSAT sitting is already over and there is no reason to think that there will be a larger-than-normal February sitting."

February is the last opportunity for prospective applicants to take the Law School Admission Test in time to meet this year's application deadlines. During the December sitting, nearly 16 percent fewer people took the test compared with 2011. Merritt said that most prospective law school applicants were starting their undergraduate educations during the Great Recession, as large firms were shedding associates and even partners in shocking numbers. That turmoil shattered the perception of the legal profession as a low-risk and lucrative career path. "I would be surprised to see applications go up again, unless there are major changes in the legal industry," Merritt said.

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