Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 1, 2014

NY Times: Law Schools Engage in 'Hand-to-Hand Combat' Over Declining Applicant Pool

NY Times Dealbook (2013)New York Times DealBook:  Law School Becomes Buyers’ Market as Competition for Best Students Increases, by Elizabeth Olson:

Summer was waning and students were already packing for the fall semester, but Prof. Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of the Northwestern University School of Law, was still fielding phone calls from incoming students seeking to bargain down the tuition at the elite school.

“It’s insane,” Professor Rodriguez said. “We’re in hand-to-hand combat with other schools.”

In the new topsy-turvy law school world, students are increasingly in control as nearly all of the 204 accredited law schools battle for the students with the best academic credentials. Gone are the days when legal educators bestowed admittance and college graduates gratefully accepted, certain that they were on the path to a highly paid, respectable career.

Now, financially wobbly law schools are facing plunging enrollment, strenuous resistance to five-figure student debt and the lack of job guarantees — not to mention the need to balance their battered budgets. To entice new students, some middle-tier schools [Arizona, Penn State, Roger WIlliams, Wayne State] have reduced tuition. ...

Once seen as cash generators, many university-affiliated law schools now lean on their parent institutions to survive a rough period. ...

Law school enrollment has been tumbling because the economic recession has reduced the number of legal jobs. In the economic fallout, law firms began to cut positions and have not restored them.

In New York, Albany Law School has cut faculty members — who had been sacrosanct at most law schools — in the face of a 34 percent decline in enrollment in its entering class this year, to 123 from 187 first-year students a year ago.

The number of first-year law school students fell 11 percent in the fall of 2013 from the fall of 2012, part of a 24 percent decline in just three years, according to the ABA. The incoming class in 2013 stood at 39,675 students, the smallest first-year class since the 1970s, when law school enrollment began to rise substantially. About two-thirds, or 135, of the association’s accredited law schools, registered a drop in first-year enrollment that year — and little has changed this fall.

Nine months after graduating, only 57 percent of the 2013 graduates had full-time jobs that required passing the bar, according to the association. Law schools are left in the unenviable position of trying to allay students’ fears that they will not be able to find a job that pays enough to repay $150,000 to $200,000 in education loans.

Legal Education | Permalink



Senator Lamar Alexander is now in charge of the HEA renewal, which was supposed to have been done back in 2013, then pushed to this year, and obviously now pushed out past midterms. Alexander's proposal last summer (easily findable online) would replace all Type D loans (Stafford, Perkins, GradPLUS) with one Type F loan, mostly to cut down on servicing and general confusion. It would sport an upgraded undergrad lending limit to $50k, but impose a $150k cap for graduate students. It is not clear from reading the proposal whether that is per degree or a lifetime cap. A $150k ceiling, of course, would be trying for many law students and really trying for virtually every medical student or multiple-advanced degree striver, since multiple advanced degrees is the new singular advanced degree just as the single advanced degree is the new bachelor's degree. That is, if it weren't also acting as a ploy to reintroduce private graduate loans back into the fray, as Sallie/Nelnet/Access and the securities markets have desired for the last four years now.

I would also add that I did not see a single mention of PSLF when I read Alexander's HEA proposal last summer.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 2, 2014 1:19:22 PM

I look forward to the bloodbath that will happen when Congress tightens GRAD PLUS lending.

It may happen this year. Obama proposed limiting lending, and I can't imagine that the Republicans want unlimited money for law school.

Posted by: Jojo | Dec 2, 2014 11:12:24 AM

Former Editor,

Those schools will still pay a heavy price. Take American Law School, which I believe refuses to reduce class size or hand out scholarships. Their class medians have fallen like a rock. Each year they are making the equivalent of a giant capital expenditure by relying on their prestige to attract candidates that view it as a reach school and are therefore willing to pay close to full tuition.* Except every year it drops in prestige, so the “reach” prospectives have worse and worse qualifications. Eventually (e.g. 2 years), there won’t be any attraction to going to American Law School instead of a 3rd tier school, so the only option American will have to meet enrollment goals will be to reduce price.

*I know this goes against the trend I cited in my previous comment, but there is of course still a draw to going to a first tier school rather than a third tier school, especially when the first tier school is in a major city.

Posted by: JM | Dec 2, 2014 11:11:40 AM


I think you mean almost all schools except the top 20. Schools that are not interested in maintaining their incoming class profiles (and all that goes with that) are probably still able to charge sticker to large chunks of their incoming classes. In other words, the worst and most exploitative schools in the country are probably fine.

Posted by: Former Editor | Dec 2, 2014 9:01:38 AM

A couple years ago I was moderated here when I made the simple observation that the legal profession had artificially refused to just LOWER THEIR RATES so that lawyers would cost as much as accountants instead of as much as very high class whores. Seriously, supply/demand means all lawyers should be employed, right? Above a threshold level of survival, at least. It's as if the legal profession has in monopolistic syndicate manner instigated its own minimum wage. Status and ego are at stake. Just like politics.

Posted by: NikFromNYC | Dec 2, 2014 7:55:17 AM

Law schools introduced the practice of the fictional sticker price. Every law student pays a different amount it seems. Some pay nothing, while others pay over $50,000 in tuition. The practice was introduced so that schools could squeeze the absolute maximum amount of money out of non-scholarship students, even if it came at the price of killing any sense of common purpose and community among students.

Now the widespread practice of price discrimination is killing law schools. Almost any prospective student (e.g. 150 LSAT/2.7 GPA) is now at least a 50% scholarship candidate somewhere. The majority of applicants will be offered a full ride somewhere. The current conventional wisdom is that if you aren’t looking at a top 20 school, then a decision should be based entirely on total cost of attendance and geographic region. Most prospective will happily go to a school ranked 74th for $12,000/year over a school ranked 48th at $37,000/yr. The practice trickles down so that all schools except the Top 20 wind up giving away seats at fire sale prices.

Posted by: JM | Dec 2, 2014 6:50:37 AM

Or simply lie about their numbers, as is increasingly common.

Posted by: mike livingston | Dec 2, 2014 4:24:01 AM

Wait, who got accredited? I thought there were only 201 accredited law schools, not 204.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 1, 2014 1:47:46 PM