Saturday, January 19, 2013
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?