As we have discussed before, law schools across the country are reducing the number of students they are admitting in the face of a weak job market for attorneys and a decline in the number of applicants. There are at least 10 law schools from the 200 in the United States that are accredited that plan to reduce enrollment. This leads many legal experts to believe that the legal industry might never return to its stature prior to the recession.
“This looks like it’s a big structural shift,” says William Henderson, an Indiana University law professor. “Law schools don’t think this is going to bounce back.”
In other economic recessions, the industry saw an increase in applications because students decided to further their education instead of finding a job. So far in 2012, the number of applicants for law schools is at 65,119, which is a 14 percent decline from the same time last year. These numbers were provided by the Law School Admission Council Inc., which is a nonprofit that administers the Law School Admission Test.
“We’re going down in a down market,” says Frank Wu. Wu is the dean of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. The school is planning to reduce its enrollment from 1,300 to 1,000 over the next three school years. The school could possibly lose $9 million from the cuts, according to Wu.
The dean for Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Daniel B. Rodriguez, has said that he is ‘taking a close look’ at decreasing the size of the school’s incoming class this fall. The school is ranked 12th in the United States by the U.S. News & World Report. Even though the pool of applicants continues to decline, law schools should still be able to keep their high ratings by the U.S. News because the schools will be able to be more selective with their applicants.
“They are trying to get a class that mirrors prior classes, but with fewer applicants and enrollees,” Henderson said. In 2006, the number of law school graduates was 42,673 while the number of graduates in 2012 was 44,495. The increase could be attributed to the fact that the American Bar Association accredited 10 new law schools in that same timeframe.
“This is long overdue,” Wu said about the class reductions. “The expectations about law school have been out of whack since I was in law school.”
The NALP released its findings from a recent survey. In those findings, the NALP said that employment rates for law school graduates in 2011 are at an 18-year low. NALP described the market as the worst since 1994 and found that 86 percent of graduates were able to find jobs. The employment rate in 1994 for the industry was 85 percent. Sixty-six percent of those jobs required a law license, which is the smallest rate since the NALP started collecting data in the decade of the 1980s.