According to new numbers released by LSAC, 167 law schools are suffering a decline in applications for 2012 (H/T Caron). At three-fourths of these down schools the decline ranges from large to potentially devastating: 76 schools with a decrease of 10% to 19%; 40 schools with a decrease of 20% to 29%; 17 schools with a decrease of 30% or greater. Keep in mind that this decrease follows on the heels of sizable decreases at many law schools in 2011.
The aggregate numbers show the seriousness of the crunch. Two years ago, first year enrollment at ABA accredited law schools was about 52,000. Last year it was around 47,000 to 48,000 (official numbers not out yet); if law schools reduce their enrollment by a comparable amount for the entering 2012 class, enrollment will fall to 43,000. Aggregate law school enrollment has not been this low since the late 1990s. ...
The scary news: Many law schools will face severe financial difficulty this coming year, and if this decline continues some law schools will close.
The good news: Law students should get higher scholarship offers deeper into the class. After going up for decades, we may finally witness a decline in real tuition (the scholarship discounted rate).
The bad news: Law schools will still produce far more graduates than available jobs (BLS stats here). To get a closer match between supply and demand for new lawyers, law schools must enroll about 35,000 first years (still above openings, but attrition after 1st year will bring this down). The last time enrollment was that low was in the early 1970s, when there were 50 fewer accredited law schools.