Law schools are experimenting with a novel solution to the nation's glut of attorneys: mint fewer of them. Faced with a weak job market for lawyers and a dwindling number of applicants, several law schools are cutting the size of their incoming classes, a move legal experts describe as unprecedented.
Law-school class sizes fluctuate from year to year and, in isolated cases, schools have reduced enrollment in the past to lower their student-to-teacher ratio or to reflect the jobs picture in their region. But experts say that the planned reductions by at least 10 of the roughly 200 laws schools accredited in the U.S., suggest a new reality is sinking in: The legal profession may never return to its prerecession prosperity.
"This looks like it's a big structural shift," says William Henderson, an Indiana University law professor who studies the market for law jobs. "Law schools don't think this is going to bounce back." ...
Still, most law schools aren't planning to shrink. They include Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the largest in the nation, with 3,700 students, and among the first to be sued over its job-placement numbers. The independent school, which has campuses in Michigan and recently expanded into Florida, has defended its practices, saying they met ABA requirements. Cooley "isn't interested in reducing the size of its entering class on the basis of the perceived benefit to society," says associate dean James Robb. "Cooley's mission is inclusiveness," adds Mr. Robb, who says he worries reducing class sizes could disproportionately affect minority students.