Most lawyers know that the current economic crisis has hit the legal industry particularly hard, and now it appears that those considering law school are getting wise to that fact as well. The number of Americans that have applied to law schools this year has dropped significantly since 2012, and the size of last year’s incoming legal class has decreased as well, in what is the first significant decline in a decade.
The Washington Post reports that, as of May 17, only 55,760 had applied to American Bar Association-accredited law schools for the 2013-2014 school year. This number is down 13.4% from this time in 2012.
Enrollment in law school is also on the decline, with only 48,700 students enrolling in a law school as a first-year student in 2011, as opposed to 52,500 in 2010, which is a 7.2% drop.
This data, provided by the Law School Admission Council, should come as no shock to law school administrators, who have been buckling down over the last five years. Law school, once viewed as a surefire route to financial stability and even financial success, is now an institution that is perceived as pumping out overly-qualified graduates into a marketplace with few legal positions. The financial crisis hit law firms particularly hard over the last five years, and many have not only stopped hiring, but dramatically cut their staff, leaving experienced attorneys to fill positions that might have otherwise gone to recent graduates. Combined with escalating student loan rates that now take longer than ever to pay off, a law degree is a far less enticing proposition to the upwardly mobile young people that once filled a law school’s halls.
However, as law school becomes less enticing for many, the drop in numbers could be viewed as a corrective measure to the glut of law school graduates that are currently fighting over a comparatively smaller number of legal jobs. As those who sought a law degree as a way to ensure a stable future for themselves look into other industries, those students who are truly passionate about the law will continue their education, and the “glut” of lawyers may subside to a more manageable number.
The Washington Post reports that George Washington University Law School reduced the size of its 2012 law school class from 474 to 398, its smallest class size in a decade. Additionally, the number of applications to Georgetown University Law Center dropped from 8,100 for the 2012-2013 year to 7,600 for the 2013-2014 year. (Georgetown will maintain its class size at 575, though some administrators are considering reducing the number in the future.
“That group of people who weren’t as committed just aren’t applying now,” said Georgetown’s Dean of Admissions Andrew Cornblatt. “The rest of world won’t weep over fewer people wanting to be lawyers, but for people like me who do admissions, it creates challenges. There are fewer top applicants and the same number of law schools fighting over a smaller pool of highly qualified applicants than four years ago.”
Law schools across the country have been dealing with this drop in innovative ways, including the strategy that is now becoming common of offering a law degree combined with an undergraduate degree, or two-year J.D. programs, in the hope of maintaining and even increasing class sizes.