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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Plummeting Law School Enrollments Portend Widespread Faculty Layoffs

The Daily Beast:  Law School Enrollments are Plummeting. What Happens Next?, by Megan McArdle:

What Campos and Tamahana are saying implies that the entire apparatus of law school needs to change radically, with fewer professors more focused on scholarship.  At this point, says Campos, law school is largely serving the needs of only one group: tenured law professors.  At the expense of kids who end up with six figure debts and no jobs. ...

But the system may not even benefit law professors for much longer, because in an unexpected development, enrollments are collapsing:

As of 01/11/13, ... Applicants are down 20.4% and applications are down 23.2% from 2012. Last year at this time, we had 47% of the preliminary final applicant count.


Those numbers imply an entering law school class in the mid-thirty-thousand range, since not all applicants are qualified, and not all admits enroll. Those are numbers we haven't seen in decades--but there are now a couple dozen more acredited law schools. That means shrinking incoming classes--possibly to the point where a bunch of law schools can no longer support themselves.

[T]he largest knock-on effect is, obviously, more unemployed law professors. Ideally, this will happen mostly through attrition--people who simply never get hired into the legal academy (note that this worsens the job outlook for law grads at least slightly). But when an entire school shuts down, its professors are going to be thrown on the job market. And it's going to be pretty hard for them to find another teaching job, given those enrollment numbers.

What happens to someone who has been teaching law for 20 years? Many of them are very smart people who might once have been great lawyers, but comparatively few of them have actual experience practicing law. When a law school shuts down, the professors will go from having one of the best jobs ever, to having to scramble for a job in a pretty lackluster market.

Of course, at worst we're talking about a few hundred, maybe a few thousand people, trickling onto the market over the next decade. It's not even going to show up in the labor statistics. But arguably it's a symptom of something much larger: the breakdown of even stalwart, safe options for middle class employment. Where are all of those non-lawyers, and non-law-professors going to go? And what if they're only the canary in the coal mine for doctors and MBAs and government workers? What if the entire professional class is about to lose its tenure?

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Why does she say collapsing enrollments are an unexpected development? Enrollment surged witn the recession, and now there has been a lot of bad press, so I fully expected this.

Posted by: Jed | Jan 19, 2013 4:23:16 PM

Is there a way to factor in a change in the average number of schools that an individual applies to? Does 40% fewer applications mean more or less than 40% fewer potential law students than two years ago?

Posted by: Jay Wiedwald | Jan 19, 2013 10:52:47 PM

Is the number of applicants smaller than the number of positions in law schools? If not, I suspect the schools will simply take a higher proportion of applicants. It will certainly mean dumbed down law schools, but other than at the very bottom, I am not sure it will mean a lot of law schools closing. It doesn't work that way.

Posted by: michael livingston | Jan 20, 2013 3:58:48 AM

49 year old UW-Madison law school grad (and current UW Madison janitor) allegedly attempts to rob a credit union to pay his $250,000 in student loans. The accused hopes for a long jail sentence; will rob another bank if released.

While law professors whinge about the stability of their jobs, this is the reality facing their wards: one where hope simply does not exist. Law schools are destroying the profession. Enough is enough.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jan 20, 2013 7:52:59 AM

This is what negative story after negative story in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal will do. The decline in applications is entirely media driven and has nothing to do with the actual facts about the boost to your employment and lifetime income that a law degree offers.

From the people who brought you fake stories about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq (Judith Miller, NY Times + the Whole WSJ); the lies and fabrications of Jayson Blair (New York Times); and Voodoo Economics (the editorial pages of the WSJ), comes another bull shit story that they think will help them sell newspapers.

Newspapers have become so desperate for readers that they are racing to turn themselves into tabloids, and let the facts be damned.

Of course, some law professors (Campos, DJM, Schlunk, Tamanaha) are even more cynical and hungry for fame at any cost.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 20, 2013 8:13:44 AM

My law school professor friends tell me sotto voce that the entire edifice now depends on international students, whose governments pay their tuitions in cash, to stay in business.

Posted by: Josher | Jan 20, 2013 10:50:03 AM

Josher: same at my school. A professor told me about many meetings where they talk about "monetizing the LLM." We have a lot of foreign students whose grasp of English is remedial. Lots of them are just purchasing a credential and taking up space.

We still don't know if the law schools will admit a huge percentage of applicants and if that happens whether the state bars will relax the bar exam stats three years later. The LSATs predict the multi-state and states use multi-state cutoffs to reject exam takers. If the schools admit lots of lower LSAT scores, will the schools inform the students the odds of passing the bar are quite low? Will the schools convince the admissions committees to drastically alter the pass rates? If they do lower the bar exam standards would that be favoring the schools over the clients?

Megan McArdle's article is all about the plight of professors. I'm not un-sympathetic to them but they are not the group I am most worried about.

Posted by: Soop | Jan 20, 2013 12:03:38 PM

I assume that Anon is just a troll.

Anyone tempted to believe him should read this article:

"Law Schools: The Real Employment Numbers for the Class of 2011" by Jason M. Dolin in the Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly of the Columbus [OH] Bar Association for Fall 2012

The article is a PDF. this is a Link to the ToC that links the article:

The statistics in the article are derived from public records requests to public law schools in Ohio.

Mr. Dolin is a suburban solo practitioner in suburban Columbus. He also is an adjunct law prof who teaches a a general practice practicum to 3Ls.

The Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly is strictly amateur, not media at all. It is provided to members without further or separate charge. Here are the tag lines for a few articles in that edition:

some articles are lifestyle:

"Some people cook to live. They dread the drudgery of preparing meals and despise the weekly trip to the grocery store. Their favorite dinner is going to a restaurant or calling for pizza."

Some are for lawyers, but don't rate as scholarship:

Every profession and occupation develops its own language and jargon. And law, with its dependence on language, has fostered many interesting words and phrases.

Some are of service to the members.

"Franklin County Common Pleas Court Civil Jury Trials"

P.S. nobody is getting rich on those verdicts.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Jan 20, 2013 12:14:52 PM

Unemployed Northeastern: "This is what negative story after negative story ..."

I blame George Bush.

Posted by: BDR | Jan 20, 2013 1:08:21 PM

I didn't write that, BDR. Our comments are placed above our handles, not below. That's Anon's comment, not mine.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jan 20, 2013 4:36:56 PM

"Is the number of applicants smaller than the number of positions in law schools?"

Campos and Tamanaha covered this in their Cato talk. The total number of applicants this year is expected to be a little higher than the total number of available seats. However, if the yield of accepted to matriculated is similar to the recent past, then we will have a significantly smaller enrolling class next year. And if we have another double-digit drop in applicants for the following cycle (like we have for the past, IIRC, 4 years), we will actually be in a situation where the number of applicants is smaller than the total number of seats.

This year is the warning, next year is the real crisis.

Posted by: john | Jan 20, 2013 5:22:57 PM

Walter Sobchak:

One year of starting salary data from five public law schools in a depressed rust belt state tells us nothing about the long term value of a law degree.

Mr. Dolin obviously has no training in econometrics or statistical analysis.

His article is just a rehash of discredited blog posts from scam bloggers with similarly poor qualifications.

And his "data" is an unrepresentative subset of the NALP and ABA data, which again, only cover one year--the first year, the lowest earning and least employable year of law grads 40+ year career.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 21, 2013 12:03:54 AM

Anon, I have yet to see numbers that really paint the legal profession in a positive light. From my experience, if a law grad doesn't get a legal job within the first year of employment, the grad will never get a legal job. Sure, that's anecdotal, but shouldn't law schools have data to justify their product's value?

Mark my words, in three years we will see a fall off in bar passage across the board. Law schools will accept less talented applicants. The bad inputs will lead to bad outputs.

Posted by: HTA | Jan 21, 2013 3:39:34 PM

And staff. But to hell with us, we're just staff.

Posted by: Violette | Jan 22, 2013 1:46:59 PM