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Enrollment Declines at Washington Law Schools
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Many Washington-area law schools have seen declines in enrollment, mirroring trends elsewhere in the country.

Summary: Although law school enrollment has declined around the United States, some Washington, D.C. area law schools have seen increases in enrollment.

According to the Washington Post, law school enrollment is at a 41-year low. The dwindling job market for new attorneys has made many wary to apply to law school, and enrollment has dropped nationwide.


In the fall of 2014, 37,924 students enrolled as 1Ls, or first-year law students. This marked a decrease of 4 percent from 2013, and a decrease of close to 28 percent from 2010, when enrollment peaked at 52,488. Data released from the American Bar Association shows that for the past four years, enrollment has steadily declined.

Read about the declines here.

Many tie the decline to major changes in the legal field that began in 2008 when the economy crashed. The world’s largest customers of legal services, huge corporations, had to reevaluate their budgets and most cut legal spending. In effect, the profits of large law firms suffered, and hiring slowed to a crawl.

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Though nationwide enrollment has decreased, enrollment at Washington area schools varies. Georgetown, George Washington and George Mason reported increases in enrollment in 2014. Georgetown’s grew 7 percent from 544 to 580 students, George Washington increased 12 percent from 482 to 539 students, and George Mason increased 9 percent from 148 to 161 students. On the contrary, American University School of Law saw its enrollment decline by 9 percent, from 473 students to 429 students.

Compared with 2010, first-year enrollment at George Washington and Georgetown are fairly equal. Georgetown’s enrollment has dropped barely 2 percent, and George Washington’s enrollment has actually gone up by 3 percent, a rarity in today’s law schools. To maintain and increase their numbers, these schools beefed up their recruiting game.

Typically, enrollment increases when schools lower tuition.

Additional financial aid was offered at Georgetown. Students categorized as “strongest students with the highest needs” increased from four students to seventy students this year. In addition, the school has increased interviews of potential students, which many believe has helped bring more students to the school. For example, five years ago, admission officers and alumni of the law school interviewed just a quarter of the entering class. This year, over half, or 56 percent, was interviewed.

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American University and George Mason have seen first-year enrollment decline by 15 percent and 35 percent, respectively, since 2010. The dean of George Mason Law, Dan Polsby, predicts that enrollment will increase a bit over the next few years, but it likely will not meet pre-recession levels again. The demand for legal services is simply not expected to ever be at the level it was before the economy crashed.

In March, the American Bar Association reported major decreases in enrollment.

Polsby explained, “There is just less demand and law firms are under stress. So there is less hiring going on.”

George Mason has adapted to the new legal market. It halted hiring for tenured positions two years ago, and the staff has decreased through attrition. In addition, the student body is expected to shrink. However, Polsby was enthusiastic about the upcoming changes to the school. He said, “We’re too big, we’ve got to get smaller and we intend to do it. We’re not talking about dramatically smaller…but we’re going to be a school of 500-some [students] instead of 600-some.”

Polsby admitted that George Mason’s decision to increase tuition more than its competitors was a mistake. However, the school froze tuition last year, and agreed to continue the freeze for three years. The move helped the school’s first-year class grow.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


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