Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 21, 2016

Financial Times Special Section On Law Schools:  
The Admissions Collapse Continues

Financial Times (2017)Financial Times, Law School Admissions Collapse Continues: They Are Being Forced to Innovate or Face Being Left Behind:

Since 2010, US law schools have experienced a drop in student admissions to a level not seen since 1973, when there were 53 fewer schools than today (204). The number of first-year students entering law school in 2015 dropped to just above 37,000 compared to 52,000 in 2010, according to figures released by the American Bar Association. The latest enrolment numbers are due in December.

FT Chart 2

[M]any law schools have responded to the challenging conditions by thinking creatively about what they offer — including a greater focus on skills-based instruction. ...

Barry Currier, managing director of the legal education section at the American Bar Association, which accredits more than 200 law schools, says a compressed course of two years rather than three can have advantages for some. “Some schools are designing programmes like two-year JDs as no degree can be less than 24 months under our rules. You can speed things up and that gets you into the job market,” he says. “Twenty years ago law students could work in summertime in [legal] fields and maybe cover their tuition for the following year, so taking three years did not seem too bad. That’s less the case now.” ...

In a 2015 address Blake Morant, then president of the American Association of Law Schools, said that the “current tough times have compelled us to think more creatively about pedagogy and curriculum.” He also pointed to new programmes that explore the intersection of classroom doctrine and the real world; some schools such as Notre Dame Law School and University of Illinois College of Law now offer semester-long “externships” in major US cities, he said.

The tougher market has compelled some schools to cut class sizes to maintain the quality of students. Sarah Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for admissions at University of Michigan Law School, says she made the decision in 2011 to shrink the class from 360 to about 300. “The national pool had got too small for us to have the same size and quality of class we had had for many years,” she says. ...

Falling student numbers hit revenue too. Barry Currier of the ABA points out that law schools look to other income streams by offering more degrees beyond the basic JD, targeting international students or running masters degrees or non-JD programmes that are aimed at people who do not want to practise but to go into a related area like compliance.

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"If republicans cut the amount of federal loans that law schools could take dramatically, it might actually boost applications an enrollment. The schools will cut their tuition to accept whatever the government will give them"

Um, no. Law school tuition growth steadily outpaced undergrad tuition growth throughout the 1990s and 2000s despite limited federal student lending available. GradPLUS only came around in 2006, remember. Private student lenders will happily fill the void left by any curtailment or cessation of federal student lending. The reason, of course, is that nondischargeability + weapons-grade securitization eliminates any and all risk analysis or due diligence. One might even say it would be a neoliberal's dream to drive the government back out of student lending. Or note that a fair amount of the "FEDERAL LENDING BAD AND INCOME-BASED REPAYMENT BAD" studies over the last several years have been funded by organizations with private student lending ties. One might also add that the accredited law schools jointly own a major private student lender.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 23, 2016 9:24:19 PM

If republicans cut the amount of federal loans that law schools could take dramatically, it might actually boost applications an enrollment. The schools will cut their tuition to accept whatever the government will give them, and with the debt/job prospects ratio looking better, more people will apply. And yes, I think the schools can go cheaper if the need to, they just don't want to lower the sticker price to get as much money as they can out of the lemmings.

Posted by: wtfreqkenneth | Nov 23, 2016 11:27:57 AM

Well Ted, you should read the higher education websites more often or more thoroughly. I'd give cites but I suddenly remembered you still haven't responded to my questions from last week, so...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 22, 2016 10:39:48 PM

The only specific proposal of which I'm aware is Mr. Trump's proposal on Oct. 13 to increase the PAYE cap from 10% to 12.5% and to forgive all remaining student debt after 15 years (as opposed to 20 years under current law). I don't understand where folks are getting the impression that he's likely to eliminate federal subsidies altogether. That's not what he's said.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Nov 22, 2016 8:39:45 AM


With the prospect of Trump and the GOP Congress getting rid of federal student loans, PSLF, and probably PAYE (since it was passed as part of the ACA legislation), I rather imagine that law school applications are about to crater anew.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 21, 2016 2:33:31 PM

Maybe word hasn't gotten out to the undergrads that they will be met with all the rigor of Play-Doh, safe spaces and puppy therapy to cope with the stress of exams and current events (i.e., reality)...I'm sure interest law school would peak if they only knew!

Posted by: Anon | Nov 21, 2016 1:04:21 PM