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Friday, November 18, 2011

Tamanaha: More Ominous Signs of the Coming Crunch for Law Schools

More Ominous Signs of the Coming Crunch for Law Schools, by Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.):

In June I wrote a post about the coming crunch for law schools,[and here] which asserted that law schools should anticipate a significant decline in the number of applicants in coming years. ... Three recent signs indicate that this will happen more quickly and to a greater degree than I suggested in the post.

The first indication is the disclosure that every student in the 2011 entering class of Illinois law school, including students admitted off the wait list, received tuition discounts. When everyone gets a scholarship, that constitutes a de facto tuition reduction, an indication that a law school is having trouble filling its seats at the list price. Given that Illinois is an excellent law school, it is likely that other schools are in the same position.

The second sign is more serious. The October 2011 LSAT, which is the highest volume test for people considering law school, had 16.9% fewer takers than the previous year. It was the lowest number of people to sit for the October exam in a decade. And it was the fifth straight LSAT administered to show a substantial decline from the same test the year before. ...

The third sign is perhaps the most alarming for law schools: the yield of applicants to test takers has been falling steadily in recent years. ... In 2010 and 2011, only around 63% of the people who took the test applied to law school. Law schools are caught in the grip of two separate, reinforcing declines that portend a severe contraction in the immediate future: fewer people are taking the LSAT test, and fewer people who take the test go on to apply to law school. A painful dose of economic discipline for law schools is just around the corner.

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Less than a quarter of Law Professors in the US and Canada have a PhD in Law (in many smaller Law Schools, and less than 10% are qualified to practise in several jurisdictions.
With the vast majority of lawyers and Law professors stuck with a simple BA, or even a JD or an MA, Law is fast becoming a trade, less qualified than electricians or plumbers, or police officers, who are taught to use complex equipment or sophisticated forensic methodologies.
The days of reckoning are approaching fast: the average salary for new comers in the profession is now in the low fifties, whenever they can find a job. More than half of litigants in Courts and tribunals are self-represented. And the repetitive legal tasks are being shipped out to India.
Let's face it: most lawyers and Law Professors are overpaid and underqualified in comparison to their scientific or technical peers, considering that they sell only words, and - with regard to Law Professors - considering their minimal practical experience apart for preaching to captive audiences.
The bloodbath will be awful, but the really qualified will survive and probably thrive.
By the way, many thanks for your great columns!

Posted by: Emmanuel Didier | Nov 18, 2011 9:33:29 PM

"less than 10% are qualified to practice in several jurisdictions"?--What does that mean?

Posted by: Ldh | Nov 19, 2011 4:36:22 AM

While a day or reckoning is deserved, and will occur if something significant happens (for example something stimulated by the congressional hearings, or a proper opinion in the Cooley/NYLS/TJ lawsuits), or a drying up of government funded student loans, a day of reckoning is not certain by any means. Even with all of the declines reported by Mr. Tamanaha schools still have to turn away two or three applicants for every one the accept.

Posted by: anon | Nov 19, 2011 7:53:03 AM