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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Merritt: Law School Applications, Starting Salaries (But Not Tuition) Sink to Pre-1985 Levels

Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Historic Levels:

According to the Law School Admission Council, about 68,000 students applied for spots in this fall's entering class. Almost half way through the current admission cycle, it looks like about 53,000 students will apply for the fall 2013 class. When did law schools last see that number of applicants?

Not in any year since 1983, the earliest year for which I can find data. ... The lowest number of applicants recorded during the last thirty years was in 1985, when only 60,338 people competed for 40,796 spots. At this point in the admission cycle, it's hard to believe that applicants for fall 2013 will top 60,000 -- or even 55,000. ...

When 60,338 people applied to law school in fall 1985, the median tuition at a private school was $7,385. Median in-state tuition at public law schools was just $1,792. If those figures had risen with inflation, they would be $15,801 at private schools today and $3,834 at public ones. Instead, the median sticker price at private schools is two-and-a-half times as high, while it's five times higher at public institutions.

Now here's the real kicker:  NALP has just published graphs showing that the median reported salary for full-time entry level jobs (those held nine months after graduation) has fallen back to 1985 levels when adjusted for inflation. That figure, of course, is for graduates who were lucky enough to land full-time jobs; just 69.8% of 2011 grads reported a full-time job of any kind. ...

In constant dollars, law school costs two-and-a-half to five times more than it did in 1985. Yet the degree offers a 1985-level starting salary for the average graduate -- if that graduate can find a full-time job. How many people will apply for that deal?

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Who will apply for that deal? Folks who really want to be lawyers. The kind of people the profession needs. I hope we can find some way to give them the kind of deal they deserve.

Posted by: John Joergensen | Jan 16, 2013 3:18:50 PM

What were law schools thinking in the 1980s? They were massively underpricing law degrees back then.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 16, 2013 4:22:18 PM

Hopefully longtime law school shill Anon is off someplace contemplating his/her evil ways and reflecting upon what kind of human being he/she is.

Posted by: cas127 | Jan 16, 2013 5:43:51 PM

Bubbles inflate and then they collapse. Back to 1983 for numbers of applications and jobs? --that's just logical.

Posted by: Lowellguy | Jan 17, 2013 7:55:33 AM

Answer to your question " How many people will apply for that deal?". 68000 per your post. Hmmmmm That is less than 1 every minute. Law schools obviously have good potential for growth.

Posted by: Zain | Jan 17, 2013 8:00:40 AM

Private school tuition used to be a lot more expensive in the 1980s, relative to public school in-state tuition. If the same ratio 4.12 ratio were applied today, private school tuition would be around $80,000.

Posted by: Bland | Jan 17, 2013 11:54:01 AM

This whole "law school scam" situation is so simple:

Potential lawyers (i.e., law school applicants) can now, for the first time, thanks to Law School Transparency and others, see data on employment outcomes for the schools they are interested in.

Yes, schools were begrudgingly forced to reveal the true details about their employment results only recently (think about that for a minute) during the worst recession in recent history, but, the current legal employment environment is the state of the world we live in, and is relevant to those who might graduate in the next 5 to 10 years.

So applicants are rightfully cautious, opting to wait it out rather than jumping in on incurring six figs of non dischargeable debt at schools like, oh, let's say, Case Western, notwithstanding assurances from its self-interested dean that the current employment situation is a blip on the radar screen and that there is no oversupply of lawyers.

All the talk about sensationalism of the situation (LEITER), the "scam" and what not are now beside the point, and a circus like distraction.

Bottom line: I, a potential applicant hoping to get a permanent full time job at a law firm consisting of more than 15 attorneys, at, oh let's say, Ted Seto's prestigious school, where my numbers put me at below the 50th percentile of the preceding class, and as such, give little hope for a full ride or more than 50% tuition discount, now have access to DATA, REAL DATA, and see that i've got less than a fifty fifty shot at realizing my goal. I prudently abstain from applying/attending. Scam be damned, its a simple cost benefit analysis.

Until the long term data are there to substantiate the notion that 10s of thousands of dollars in non-dischargeable debt to obtain a J.D. makes sense, potential applicants are well advised to wait it out. And they are, particularly the 170 and above LSAT scorers. We now have rational consumers making rational decisions. Wonderful.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 17, 2013 5:23:13 PM