Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 9, 2015

'No Relief' for Law School Enrollment Slump

Indiana Business Journal, 'No Relief' for Law School Enrollment Slump:

After three down years for law school enrollment, Austen Parrish expected a rebound of applications and enrollment this year at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

But it isn’t happening. The law school, which Parrish leads, saw the number of first-year law students decline 10 percent this school year on top of the nearly 25-percent decline in first-year enrollment it suffered from 2010 to 2013.

law school numbers

A similar story is playing out at most law schools in Indiana and the nation. Enrollment has fallen at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IUPUI and Valparaiso University Law School in northwest Indiana.

And a law school started recently by Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne has enrolled only a third of the students it expected.

In response, Indiana’s law schools are not replacing retiring faculty, spending more on recruiting, creating programs for non-attorney types of legal education, and experimenting with an educational approach that responds to what many see as permanent shifts in demand for legal services.

law-school-bars.jpgSimilar, and in some cases more drastic, moves are being taken by law schools around the country.

First-year enrollments have plunged almost 28 percent since 2010 and stand at their lowest level since 1973, according to the American Bar Association. Making matters worse, there are 53 more law schools now than there were then.

“This continued decrease in student demand is consistent with our belief that the legal industry is experiencing a fundamental shift rather than a cyclical trend,” Susan Fitzgerald, a higher education analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, said in a January report titled “No Relief in Sight.”

Not everyone agrees the enrollment declines are permanent. But even if they aren’t, the change in status for law schools is stunning.

What used to be one of the surest routes to the upper middle class is now one of the best routes to a life of debt.

Starting salaries for law school graduates with full-time law jobs remain 8 percent below their 2009 peak, averaging $78,205 in 2013, according to the most recent data available from the National Association for Law Placement.

Meanwhile, law school debt runs about $100,000 or more among those with debt.

Among Indiana’s established law schools, debt for 2013 graduates averaged nearly $98,000 at IU McKinney, $99,000 at the University of Notre Dame, nearly $108,000 at IU Maurer, and more than $130,000 at Valpo, according to U.S. News & World Report.

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