TaxProf Blog

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

NLJ: Law School Enrollment Slump Continues

National Law Journal, Enrollment Slump Continues: For Fourth Year, the Number of Law School Applicants Declined in 2014:

The number of applicants to ABA-accredited law schools declined by about 8 percent this year, dashing hopes for a reversal in a four-year downward trend. Applicants have fallen by more than 37 percent since 2010, according to figures from the Law School Admission Council, offering further proof that plenty of would-be lawyers now view a law degree as a risky investment.

"Law school just isn't the path into the middle class that it once was," said Alfred Brophy, a University of North Carolina School of Law professor who has tracked enrollment. "Things have tumbled downhill very rapidly. … Students are disappearing, and it's unclear when they're going to come back." The latest decline in applicants should translate into about 38,000 new law students next fall, Brophy estimates — a nearly 28 percent drop compared to the first-year class of 2010, which had a record 52,488 students.

There was some positive news amid the sobering numbers: The number of applicants with relatively high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) fell only slightly, and the 2014 admissions cycle represented the first time in three years that the year-over-year applicant decline landed in the single digits. ...

University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Jerome Organ also has been keeping close tabs on the application cycle and noted a interesting trend: The number of applicants with high LSAT scores — 165 and above — declined by fewer than 1 percent compared to the previous year. Those with scores between 145 and 164 declined by more than 9 percent, however. "For the schools in the top 30 or so, who tend to garner many of the people at 165 and above, there may be enough to go around without too many schools having to shrink enrollment too significantly," he said. "But below that, the law schools with LSAT medians between 145 and 164 will be trying to maintain enrollment and profile with 10 percent fewer applicants to draw from."

That means many schools will be forced to choose, yet again, between accepting smaller classes or students with inferior academic credentials. The first option hurts the school's bottom line, while the second can send a law school tumbling down the influential U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Legal Education | Permalink


No surprises. Law school costs far too much, there are far too few jobs, and the myth of the degree's versatility remains but a myth. Moreover, possible future changes to income-based repayment plans and student loans include PSLF being capped at $57,500, other forgiveness plans being capped at $150k, and the possible replacement of graduate Staffords and GradPLUS loans with a single all-purpose loan with a $150k lending ceiling, will not help bring in more applicants, either.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 21, 2014 9:11:20 AM

What has replaced the law degree? What are the non-applicants doing instead of going to law school?

Posted by: Garnet Kelch | Jul 21, 2014 10:31:51 AM

“[D]ashing hopes for a reversal in a four-year downward trend? Please excuse my impertinence, but whose hopes are being dashed? As I see it, this is a boon to those individuals who wish to become lawyers, as well as welcome news for recent grads who have been unable to find J.D. required or advantaged jobs. Whose hopes are being dashed? Why of course, the hopes of legal academicians seeking jobs and promotions and tenure. Why of course! The real question here is when will the legal academy begin to understand that law schools exist primarily for the purpose of educating and training (yes, training) lawyers–not to perpetuate the law school professoriate.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 21, 2014 10:42:38 AM

"What has replaced the law degree? What are the non-applicants doing instead of going to law school?"

Anything that doesn't six figures in non-dischargable debt. Rig-worker in N. Dakota. Barista.

Posted by: terry malloy | Jul 21, 2014 11:49:26 AM


There are various theories, but I'm not aware of any study (so far) about where the former law school applicants are diverting to. Theories include: (a) foregoing graduate school and going directly into the work force because of the general economic recovery; (b) pursuing other, less expensive, degrees (e.g. MBA or CPA); (c) applicants with low LSATs holding off on applying in the present cycle to try to improve their scores (and therefore placements/scholarships) in the next few years.

Posted by: Former Editor | Jul 21, 2014 5:39:27 PM