Optimism that law school enrollment had hit bottom and was ready to nose up has proven unfounded: it’s still getting worse, this year, and possibly next. This year we’ve seen an 8 percent drop in applicants to ABA accredited school, which brings us down 37 percent since 2010, according to the National Law Journal.
“I think this is a real morale buster,” said Alfred Brophy, a University of North Carolina School of Law professor, according to the National Law Journal. “A bunch of people had been thinking, ‘We’ve hit bottom and things will turn around.’ But we didn’t see that.”
The legal sector has not reflected the sort of recovery we have seen in the general economy: few legal jobs are to be had, and students are wary of this. Though one study suggested a law degree would give a $1 million advantage over a bachelor’s degree, potential students aren’t buying it.
Brophy estimates that 2014’s enrollment will be about 38,000, the lowest since 1974, and though we won’t know the numbers till this fall, many tell-tale signs indicate the trend hasn’t reversed itself. The only flicker of hope we’ve seen is a 1 percent increase in LSAT takers in 2013, an anomaly that Daniel Rodriguez, dean of the Northwestern University School of Law and president of the Association of American Law Schools explained away to the National Law Journal:
“Frankly, there was never a very good theory as to why we would see a correction this year, nor did the data point in that direction. The optimism was a product of wishful thinking.”
Dipping into the LSAT stats, the National Law Journal found that high scorers of 165 or better had declined only 1 percent, whereas middle scorers between 145 and 164 dipped 9 percent. This suggests that the elite schools who grab up the high scorers will maintain the class size they desire, while schools who take on the middle scorers have to choose between accepting fewer students – meaning less tuition, and hence salary cuts or staff reduction – or accepting lower scoring students – meaning they will slip on the U.S. News & World Report rankings, a significant determiner of the success of a law school.
Since June’s LSAT takers fell 9 percent from 2013, with first-time takers dropping 14 percent, we can anticipate the downward trend will continue. When it will bottom out is uncertain, but Brophy’s prediction that it would never sink below 35,000 is no longer a certain thing, as even he has his doubts.