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Law Schools Hopeful that Enrollment Will Increase
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With increases in LSAT applications, many legal professionals are optimistic that the legal market may be turning around.

Summary: With increases in LSAT applications, many legal professionals are optimistic that the legal market may be turning around.

Legal educators are crossing their fingers in hopes that the 2015-2016 academic year will be the low point for law school enrollment, and that, starting next year, the numbers will start to recover.

  
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According to the National Law Journal, Alfred Brophy, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law who tracks enrollment, said, “The long, dark days of declines are over, for the time being. How much of a turnaround it will be, I don’t know. But if I’m a dean, I’m going to the central administration and saying, ‘Hey, keep us afloat for a little bit longer. Things are getting better.’ ”

Enrollment has been declining for several years.

The admissions cycles are ending right now. According to recent numbers, the number of applicants to American Bar Association-accredited schools dropped by just 2 percent. From 2011 to 2013, the number of applicants dropped by 10 percent each year.

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Additionally, the number of individuals signing up for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has gone up each test date since December. Last month, it jumped by 6.6 percent. Jeff Thomas, the executive director of prelaw programs for Kaplan Test Prep, said, “Historically, the June LSAT is the start of the new admissions season for law schools, and June along with October have the largest number of first-time test takers. There’s reason for optimism.”

Last year, enrollment was at a 27-year low.



Thomas noted that a small percentage of June test takers probably intend to start law school in the fall, but he predicts that most of these students will apply to law school next year. “I think we’ll know a lot more after October,” he commented, hypothesizing that October test-taker numbers will also increase.

Sarah Zearfoss, the senior assistant dean for admissions, financial aid and career planning at the University of Michigan Law School, agreed that it’s a bit too early to celebrate too much. She commented, “We’re talking about a 6 percent increase over what is a historically low number [of June LSAT takers]. But I’m happy to see that the numbers have stopped plummeting. I would hope that we’ve already hit the bottom.”

Over 23,200 individuals took the LSAT in June. This showed an increase of 1,435 test-takers.

Law school may be more attractive now because the legal job market has improved, but this may be due to the fact that fewer graduates are competing for entry-level positions. Around 60 percent of graduates from the class of 2014, found full-time jobs that required passing the bar within 10 months of graduation. This was up from less than 55 percent for the class of 2011.

Brophy remarked, “The terror that was driving away applicants has passed. You just aren’t hearing the horror stories anymore of the person who was on law review and at the top of their class who couldn’t find a job.”

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College graduates who decided not to go to law school when the job market was at its worst may now give it a second chance. According to Jerry Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School Law, said, “It’s conceivable to me that the population of 25- to 29-year-olds thinking of law school is increasing because there were people who sat out from 2011 to 2014, when the news wasn’t so good.”

Undergraduate programs are also enrolling and graduating more students after years of decreased enrollment, Mike Spivey, an admissions consultant, stated. This also increases the pool of potential law students. He commented, “If the October LSAT is also up, you can say with great confidence that this year’s cycle will be up for the first time in a long time.”

Many think the LSAT is weighted too heavily at law schools.

Of course, law schools do not just need more applicants, they need qualified ones. According to Organ, there was a decline in the number of 2015 test takers with scores above 165 from 2014, which means a less qualified group of applicants. He said, “There aren’t enough applicants with high scores for the top-end schools to maintain their class size and their profile.”

Michigan Law has cut its incoming class by roughly 10 percent in size to keep its student quality up, Zearfoss noted: “This cycle was the toughest I’ve been through and that my colleagues I’m talking to have been through. We’ve basically reached the smallest number of people who can apply and still be able to put together a class. I had a harder time finding the candidates I wanted.” Brooklyn Law School has even begun offering a 15% refund to students who cannot find work within nine months of graduating, according to the New York Times.

Even if more students apply next year, law schools will not bounce back to their pre-recession days, where there were more qualified students than available seats in the incoming class. Blake Morant, the dean of George Washington University Law School and the president of the Association of American Law Schools said, “People are seeing signs that the market has bottomed out, but it’s not going to be a return to business as usual,” he said. “I sense that things are leveling off, but schools must continue to innovate and introduce new programs to succeed.”

Source: National Law Journal

Photo credit: National Law Journal



 

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