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February 01, 2013 10:00 AM Law School: Everyone Gets In!

By Daniel Luzer

Law school applications, for the third year in a row, have declined. The New York Times reports that:

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.

This is very much a problem for law schools, who rely upon applicants (with their willingness to pay hefty tuition fees) to keep their doors open. “We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our admissions books,” William D. Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University, told the Times.

This is unlike what’s happening in other professions requiring advanced degrees. Applications for medical and business schools continue to rise.

But this decline probably isn’t going to be a problem for the country itself (“Oh God, can no one perform this corporate merger for me?”). Indeed, people are likely unwilling to apply to law school for the very rational reason that there are fewer good jobs available for lawyers than in the last decade.

2013 will, as the Times writes, likely see some 54,000 people apply to law school. That’s an important number, because for years about 56,000 people a year were admitted to law schools. That’s essentially the number of spaces available across the country for new law students. If law schools aren’t getting smaller, and the Times prediction is correct, that means that this year almost no one will be rejected from law school.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who wants to go to Yale Law gets in, of course. But it does mean almost everyone who applies will get in somewhere.

That’s going to be trouble in coming years for law schools; if everyone can get in somewhere, this means aspiring law students have power. They won’t necessarily be willing to assume huge debt if they know there’s some school out there that will offer them a good financial aid package.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Elisa on February 01, 2013 11:52 AM:

    Is that 56,000 people accepted to law school, or 56,000 acceptances to law school (by many fewer than 56,000 people, most of whom apply to multiple law schools)?

  • Daniel on February 01, 2013 8:54 PM:

    56,000 people who entered law school, or 56,000 positions in total 1st year law school class across the country.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 02, 2013 3:05 AM:

    This is unlike what’s happening in other professions requiring advanced degrees. Applications for medical and law schools continue to rise.

    That's gotta be a typo, right?

    But to the issue, this is part of a larger problem because, assuming this pattern also holds for the elite schools only, we're just closer to exclusively rationing slots by willingness to take on crushing debt. That might actually lead to more social mobility if we accepted that (1) law will never come back as a highly-paid profession (2) socioeconomically elite students who overpay for a law education will get pulled back down toward socioeconomic with their less privileged counterparts who couldn't afford law school. But I don't think either one is true. (2) isn't true because those students have family to cushion them from the debt if law never comes back.

    Meanwhile, the sort of pipe dream that bright young kids from low-income families can use a law career to achieve upward mobility seems absolutely ludicrous. Who can afford to play in the lifetime earnings casino? It's reminiscent of the failure of credit markets in poorer communities/regions. You just can't make good investments if you can't assume the risk of losing everything.

    Rich get richer, like always.

  • Gene Ha on February 02, 2013 12:01 PM:

    Emphasizing what Equal Opportunity Cynic wrote, I'll quote and snip from the original post:

    "Law school applications, for the third year in a row, have declined.... Applications for medical and law schools continue to rise."

    I assume "medical and" some non-law grad school programs have seen rising applications.

  • Anonymous on February 02, 2013 2:51 PM:

    if everyone can get in somewhere, this means aspiring law students have power. They won’t necessarily be willing to assume huge debt if they know there’s some school out there that will offer them a good financial aid package.

    It has a long way to go to be anything like grad school in the sciences. Almost nobody pays for that. If you don't qualify for a fellowship including full tuition waiver and a living stipend, you don't get in anyway.

    The job market kinda sucks but it has for a long time now, and generally temporary work is no problem, so you won't be out of work and $100,000 or more in debt, you'll be making $45,000 and be not at all in debt.