TaxProf Blog

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Law School Crisis Is Spreading

Bloomberg, The Best Law Schools Are Attracting Fewer Students: The Legal Education Crisis Is Spreading:

As applications plunge, especially from the very best students, a growing number of highly regarded law schools are slashing class sizes. The crisis in legal education, once confined to the lower tier (schools ranked below 50 by U.S. News and World Report), has hit the upper echelon. ... The majority of elite campuses, unwilling to seriously dilute their student bodies, still had to downsize. Class sizes declined by a median of 5 percent at the top 20 schools over the last five years, ABA data shows.

Bloomberg 4

The most urgent challenge facing the top schools is that applications from students with the highest test scores have declined. In 2010, 12,177 people with the highest scores on the LSAT (165 and above, the highest possible score being 180) applied to law school. By 2015, only 6,667 people with those scores applied, according to figures provided by Jerome Organ, a law professor who analyzes law school admissions data.

Legal Education | Permalink


Crisis? What crisis? The only crisis is for the poor souls who cannot afford a lawyer.

- Dean Testy

Posted by: Jojo | Jan 26, 2016 12:31:43 PM

I think for certain there will be a fracture in the top 14 schools in the next decade. Not only are there far fewer highly qualified applicants, but my belief is that far more of those applicants are choosing to take scholarships at lower ranked schools instead of attending the best school they get into than in years past. The result is that there is only enough elite talent to supply 8-10 premier law schools. At least four will fall into the sub-elite status, along with UCLA, Texas, Vanderbilt, etc. I am guessing these schools will be Georgetown, Northwestern, Virginia and Michigan.

Posted by: JM | Jan 26, 2016 12:51:52 PM

The problem is "simple." There is not enough work, clients and fees for current attorneys and entrants into the profession. If the ABA had not accredited or continue to accredit all of these unranked diploma mill like correspondence law schools with open enrollment standards, there would be work and jobs. The pie is not big enough and the cat is out of the bag. The best and the brightest are avoiding law schools. With good reason. Law School education has succumbed to a Walmart Uber like negative oversaturated market that looses value.

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Jan 26, 2016 1:33:12 PM

Thank God there are no troubling possibilities on the horizon that could make the situation worse.
This report suggests that what we are facing is unlike what has happened before with automation and that when coupled with the pending explosion in AI capability that we can't at this point understand because it is beyond historical experience and comparisons, there will be a fundamental transformation in employment, education and political systems over the next 10-15 years. Think of the consequences of permanently eliminating blue collar and huge numbers of middle class jobs with nothing for those cut loose to turn to other than government support. Then think about what is going to happen to the US economic and political system with an actual national debt of close to $60 trillion when you count all the IOUs that have been issued for programs like Social Security and the continuing and even increasing need for higher levels of social spending. How many people do we think will be going to law school as presently constituted? If there is a decline in paying clients to this point think what it will be with an even more intensively skewed wealth inequality. This does not even begin to think through the emergence of legal services applications to providers who are not lawyers or who are managed by one or two lawyers that establish high volume legal businesses. We don’t need more lawyers. We need better lawyers and we will see very different vehicles for the delivery of many forms of services in law that are not controlled by the organized legal profession. There is absolutely no reason for many American law schools to exist in their present form, and there is no reason for quite a few to exist in any form.
Robots expected to run half of Japan by 2035
Harvard awarded £19m to build brain-inspired artificial intelligence (Wired UK)

Your Lawyer May Soon Be an Algorithm
Victoria Turk, December 3, 2014 // 12:20 PM EST
Lawyers are the latest to find themselves in the firing line of robots—or artificially intelligent algorithms, at any rate. The robotic revolution has been predicted to spread its techno-tendrils far and wide in the job market, and a recent report by UK consultancy firm Jomati Consultants suggests that they’ll be creeping ever further into the legal profession by 2030. The report suggests that the “economic model of law firms is heading for a structural revolution, some might say a structural collapse.”

Your Job Taught to Machines Puts Half U.S. Work at Risk

By Aki Ito Mar 12, 2014 12:01 AM ET
Who needs an army of lawyers when you have a computer? When Minneapolis attorney William Greene faced the task of combing through 1.3 million electronic documents in a recent case, he turned to a so-called smart computer program. Three associates selected relevant documents from a smaller sample, “teaching” their reasoning to the computer. The software’s algorithms then sorted the remaining material by importance.

Here come the robot lawyers
By James O'Toole @jtotoole March 28, 2014: 7:16 AM ET

The lawyers of the future may be less J.D. than R2D2.
The law profession is being reshaped by new automation technologies that allow law firms to complete legal work in a fraction of the time and with far less manpower. Think IBM's "Jeopardy!"-winning computer Watson -- practicing law. Watson the lawyer is coming," said Ralph Losey, a legal technology expert at the law firm Jackson Lewis. "He won't come up with the creative solutions, but when it comes to the regular games that lawyers play, he'll kill them." That means potentially huge cost savings for clients, though it's not so promising for law school graduates looking for work.

New Report Suggests Lawyers Will Be Replaced By Robots By 2030
Sean Levinson in Business Dec 2, 2014 • 12:19pm

A new report on the evolution of law offices predicts the industry to be almost completely overtaken by robots within the next 15 years. The report, Civilisation 2030: The Near Future For Law Firms by Jomati Consultants, envisions a “structural collapse” of many large firms as the only humans they would need would be a handful of high-powered partners. These remaining humans would maintain value by increasing their advisory skills, according to Legal Futures.

The report reads, Clients would instead greatly value the human input of the firm’s top partners, especially those that could empathise with the client’s needs and show real understanding and human insight into their problems. The change could be disastrous for aspiring lawyers, however, as the mentally taxing jobs typically given to new associates would instead go to robots, which can complete much more work in far less time. According to the report, Eventually each bot would be able to do the work of a dozen low-level associates. They would not get tired. They would not seek advancement. They would not ask for pay rises. Process legal work would rapidly descend in cost. CNN first noticed this transformation brewing last March as a great deal of work at law firms is already being handled by computers, such as drafting contracts or looking for evidence in lengthy documents. One firm reported to be using software that can take care of the review process in approximately a third of the time it would take a human. Another highlighted the necessity of such technology by citing the tremendous jump in data lawyers are presented due to texting and emails. Tim Harkness, a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in New York, said. The amount of stuff you have to get through to find that core group of documents has exploded, even though the amount you present to a jury is similar.

Posted by: David | Jan 26, 2016 6:44:11 PM

(a) There's been a structural change in the need for lawyers, or (b) the cat's outta the bag about the real employment prospects of law school graduates? Which one is it? And if both, which one is most responsible of the decrease in matriculants?

Posted by: anon. 25 | Jan 27, 2016 8:07:59 AM

Any kid who is smart enough to be a candidate for one of the top law schools is smart enough to know that even if he gets trough law school without any student loan debt, and even if he is one of top performers in his class, the job he will get after he graduates will suck. He will spend ten years in a haze of exhaustion, have little chance to start a family, or see them, if he does, and, for all that effort, will accomplish nothing that will in any way improve anyone's life or make anyone a bit happier, healthier, or wiser. In other words, law school sucks, and the reward for successful completion of law school is a prison term at hard labor.

Of course they won't go to law school, they are smart enough to know that there are other things they can do with their time and money, things that will be more rewarding and less miserable.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Jan 27, 2016 8:16:30 AM

"New Report Suggests Lawyers Will Be Replaced By Robots By 2030"

Won't happen. Robots are too smart to put up with the nonsense that lawyers have to put up with.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Jan 27, 2016 3:00:21 PM

It is not the law, nor clients, nor hard work that is the problem. I bargained for that. Nothing "good" is easy. What we did not bargain for is all of these correspondence like diploma mill law schools and their accreditation by the ABA. They have cheapened and oversaturated the profession where nobody has sustainable work. The pie is not big enough......My degree has been devalued.....the law school brand has been tarnished.

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Jan 30, 2016 6:18:45 PM