Showing a clear deviation in trends, 2011 saw the largest drop (16%) of this decade in LSAT applications. The Law School Admission Council has reported that while in the 2009-2010 academic year the number of applicants who took the LSAT tests were 171, 514, in 2010-2011 it came down to 155,050, and in 2011-12 the number has reached 129,925. In total, the number of LSAT takers has fallen by almost 25 percent over the last two years.
Critics say, that lack of transparency about career prospects and inadequate data from law schools along with market skepticism about the ability of the market to absorb the close to 45,000 students scheduled to graduate within the next three years, has prompted greater number of students to forego law school as a viable career option.
However, detractors opine that it is the huge amount of student debts related to education at law schools that has prompted students to turn away from LSAT. The clear perception that doing well at law school is no guarantee of a six-figure law firm job, and is insufficient to justify the staggering law school student – debts has taken hold in the minds of applicants.
Kyle McEntee of Law School Transparency, a legal education policy organization, told the NY Times that “For a long time there has been this culturally embedded perception that if you go to law school, it will be worth the money … The idea that law school is an easy ticket to financial security is finally breaking down.”
Law schools have also been at the receiving end of attacks with bloggers accusing law schools of luring students with questionable information. More than the rosy pictures drawn by law schools for prospective students, media attention and the attention of aggrieved students have focused on the numbers employed nine months after graduating from law schools.
Recent filings of class-action lawsuits against law schools, regardless of their success, have drawn attention upon grievances and stark realities of law school graduates. For many law schools, the dwindling figure represents a vote of no-confidence of the student community in the legal education system and poses serious challenges.
Andrew Morriss of the University of Alabama School of Law told the media “What I’d anticipate is that you’ll see the biggest falloff in applications in the bottom end of the law school food chain … Those schools are going to have significant difficulty because they are dependent on tuition to fund themselves and they’ll either have to cut class size to maintain standards, or accept students with lower credentials.”
However, that means that law schools would no more be able to ride on the shoulders of above-average students who perform only on their own merits and efforts. The profits would shrink as law schools would need to shell out real services – because more students with lower credentials means more students failing at the bar – unless the law school starts to provide real educational services, which costs and reduces profits. But not doing anything about it would also cause the school to lose prestige from greater number of failures at the bar.
While some experts have tried to point out that the same flaws exist in law school systems that are also present in other similar disciplines like engineering or architecture, the numbers of applicants in other disciplines have not experienced such sharp drops.