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Law Schools Witnessing Major Drop in Applications

The legal world expected to see a drop in law school numbers in 2013, but as of the middle of January, not many expected to see the dip that is actually happening. As of the middle of the month, 27,891 people applied for seats at American Bar Association accredited law schools in the United States, according to a story in The National Law Journal.

That number is a decline of 20 percent compared to 2012, which was a 14 percent decline from the year before. Should the trend continue through the end of the admissions cycle, schools will witness a 38 percent drop since peaking in 2010.

University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Jerome Organ, said, “I am surprised by the extent of the decline. I had anticipated a decline, but possibly a more moderate decline than the last two years.”

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Deborah Jones Merritt, a professor at Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law, said, “I was pretty surprised to look back and saw the prospective applicant levels would bring us back to 1983. There’s a general sense people have that applications are cyclical, but I don’t see any way for a quick rebound here.”

At the current rate, anywhere from 53,000 and 54,000 applicants will be vying for seats at accredited law schools in the United States this year. That number would be a decrease from the 68,000 in 2012.

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

Brian Tamanaha, a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis Law School, said, “The class of 2010 was really the peak enrollment year, and that class graduates this spring. Although we had smaller entering classes in 2011 and 2012, having that larger class helped fill out enrollment. When that large class is replaced by a much smaller new class this fall, the cumulative effect will be quite significant.”

Tamanaha is also the author of Failing Law Schools, which critiques law education in the country. He said that schools will need to find ways to make up for the lost tuition and it might come from cutting staff members and even faculty members, which is a larger problem than filling seats in classrooms. “Now we’re going to see some program cuts. Our situation will change quite dramatically.”

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