Law school applications are headed for a 30-year low, reflecting increased concern over soaring tuition, crushing student debt and diminishing prospects of lucrative employment upon graduation.
As of this month, there were 30,000 applicants to law schools for the
fall, a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year and a 38
percent decline from 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council.
Of some 200 law schools nationwide, only 4 have seen increases in
applications this year. In 2004 there were 100,000 applicants to law
schools; this year there are likely to be 54,000.
Such startling numbers have plunged law school administrations into
soul-searching debate about the future of legal education and the
profession over all.
“We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our
admissions books,” said William D. Henderson, a professor of law at
Indiana University, who has written extensively on the issue. “Thirty
years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward
mobility, you went to business or law school. Today, the law school
escalator is broken.”
Responding to the new environment, schools are planning cutbacks and
accepting students they would not have admitted before.
A few schools, like the Vermont Law School, have started layoffs and buyouts
of professors. Others, like at the University of Illinois, have offered
across-the-board tuition discounts to keep up enrollments. Brian Leiter
of the University of Chicago Law School, who runs a blog on the topic,
said he expected as many as 10 schools to close over the coming decade,
and half to three-quarters of all schools to reduce class size, faculty
and staff. ...
“Students are doing the math,” said Michelle J. Anderson, dean of the
City University of New York School of Law. “Most law schools are too
expensive, the debt coming out is too high and the prospect of attaining
a six-figure-income job is limited.” ...
“In the ’80s and ’90s, a liberal arts graduate who didn’t know what to
do went to law school,” Professor Henderson of Indiana said. “Now you
get $120,000 in debt and a default plan of last resort whose value is
just too speculative. Students are voting with their feet. There are
going to be massive layoffs in law schools this fall. We won’t have the
bodies we need to meet the payroll.”