TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, February 1, 2013

WSJ: Crop of New Law Schools Opens Amid a Lawyer Glut

Wall Street Journal:  Crop of New Law Schools Opens Amid a Lawyer Glut:

Law-school applications are at their lowest in a decade, but that hasn't stopped a handful of colleges and universities across the nation from opening new law schools.

Some of the new schools are intended for regions where law schools are scarce or are being built to round out a university's suite of professional schools. But many of them are likely to find themselves competing for a shrinking pool of would-be lawyers and sending hopeful graduates into one of the toughest markets in years for law jobs. ...

The numbers don't favor these new schools. Last year the pool of law-school applicants shrank to about 68,000, down about 13% from 2011 and more than 30% from the past decade's peak of about 100,000 in 2004, according to the Law School Admission Council. ...

The coming school year looks even grimmer. As of last Friday, only 30,000 people had applied for entrance. That's a 20% drop from a year earlier and the lowest number in the past decade to have submitted applications as of mid-January.

The expansion comes at a crossroads for legal education. Law schools are turning out more graduates than ever—and charging higher tuition—even as law jobs have become increasingly hard to come by. Many law firms laid off lawyers during the economic downturn, when demand for legal services cratered, and competition for what jobs are left remains fierce.

Members of the law-school class of 2011 had little better than a 50-50 shot at landing a job as a lawyer within nine months of receiving their degree, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis last year. At the same time, some law graduates are saddled with as much as $150,000 in student-loan debt, in part because tuition is rising faster than the rate of inflation. ...

During the law-school boom between 1950 and 1970, about 20 schools per decade got accredited by the ABA. In the 1980s and 1990s, that pace dropped back to eight per decade. There's been a resurgence this century, with 19 new schools getting ABA's stamp of approval since 2000, and more on deck. New schools are popping up in states with rising populations like Florida, California and Texas, said Barry Currier, a former law-school professor who is the ABA's interim consultant on legal education. ...

Many established schools are luring elite students with scholarships in an effort to maintain their rankings. Some experts predict that some schools will be forced to close their doors if current enrollment trends continue. Mr. Currier said no ABA-approved school that he knows of has shut down in the past four decades.

Wall Street Journal:  Enrollment at ABA-Approved Law Schools: 1964-2013:

A handful of colleges and universities are opening up new law schools, despite a steep nationwide decline in the number of would-be lawyers. Last year, the pool of law-school applicants shrank to about 68,000 -- down about 13% from 2011 and more than 30% from 2004. See law-school enrollment data from 1964 to present for schools approved by the ABA. Click the column headers to sort.

WSJ Law Blog:  Legal Jobs Report: January:

In the first month of 2013, the legal services sector dropped 2,400 jobs, erasing gains in December,  according to the Labor Department. After revisions, December saw legal jobs increase by about 2,000, not the 1,000 originally reported. Overall, the sector has added 6,500 jobs over the past year.

Volokh Conspiracy: More New Law Schools Opening, by Kenneth Anderson (American):

[T]he assumption is that if you teach anywhere in the mid tier schools, there will belt-tightening and budgetary constraint, but not disaster.  It’s the bottom tier that’s in trouble.  Which might be true.  But I think the distress might be much more widespread into the mid-tier.  The reasons are two-fold.

One is that even if one closed the bottom twenty percent of law schools, I’m skeptical that it would take the pressure off lawyer employment in a meaningful way – and by extension, on law schools further up the food chain.  The bottom tier students are mostly not competing with the mid-tier schools and their students for jobs; they inhabit different credential and employment worlds, so much so that even if all those annual graduates disappeared from the market, it wouldn’t really help the mid tier or above students, because they weren’t competing for those (non)-jobs anyway.  The structural problems of lawyer employment are not just a glut of homogenous graduates, but that the jobs that traditionally existed for mid-tier law students-lawyers, but not really for bottom tier graduates, have cratered structurally for reasons all their own.

The other reason is something that University of Baltimore professor Richard Bourne noted in a 2012 paper – the cost structures of the T-15-T-50 schools resemble those of the T-15 schools, but without the deep resources to support them.  That amounts to supporting the research agendas of the professors and the upwardly mobile aspirations of these schools which require scholarship.  Much of it turns out to be Red Queen behavior – running in place since all the other schools in that tier are doing the same – and consuming ever greater resources doing so.  But the professors find it in their individual interests to play the free-agency game, particularly as the rewards at the very top schools have increasingly been not merely prestige but monetary, and the schools have their own reputational reasons.  This also means doing everything possible to purchase the highest LSAT scores – with the effect, Bourne argues, that the lower performing students (locked into finishing law school by having jumped over the first year cliff in borrowed money for tuition) wind up subsidizing the higher performing students who bring better LSAT scores.  There’s a looming question whether this cost model can be supported by schools that have small or negligible endowments and essentially tuition dependent.  But those schools, Bourne points out, are often ranked T-15 to T-50.

Paul Campos (Colorado):  Wall Street Journal Story Implies We May Not Need More Law Schools:

UNT Dallas hasn't revealed yet what it plans to charge in tuition for its entering class of 2014, but Indiana Tech, which is putting forth precisely the same babble about why it's opening a law school, will charge nearly $30,000 per year to this fall's entering class, assuming there is one. ... Indiana Tech is having quite a bit of trouble rounding up 100 intrepid souls for its entering class, so jah willing perhaps this particular farcical enterprise won't even get off the ground).

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference WSJ: Crop of New Law Schools Opens Amid a Lawyer Glut:


To reward political contributions, we can project Washington passing more laws and regulations making it possible to increase the number of malpractice and class-action suits to absorb the excess supply of attorneys and keep the supply line of future trial lawyers intact.

Posted by: Woody | Feb 1, 2013 3:25:51 PM

I'm considering opening a law school whose graduates would be guaranteed employment — suing each other.

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Feb 2, 2013 12:26:13 PM