The reasons: skyrocketing tuition and plummeting job prospects.
Through January, there were 30,000 applicants to law schools for the fall. This is a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year and a 38 percent decline from 2010.
Only four of the 200 law schools nationwide have seen increases in applications this year.
“We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our admissions books,” said Indiana University law professor William D. Henderson in a story in The New York Times. “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.”
Law schools are reacting by laying off professors, offering deep tuition discounts and accepting students they would not have admitted a few years ago.
Some are even planning to close their doors.
Experts are projecting around 38,000 freshman law students when the fall 2013 semester begins – the lowest total since 1977, when there were two dozen fewer law schools.
In addition to economic woes, the following factors are cited for the decline:
- Growth of the Internet and faster, cheaper legal research requiring fewer lawyers;
- Outsourcing of legal services;
- Online providers of legal forms and routine services;
- Mounting student debt loads;
- Decreasing opportunities to pay off loans.
“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 2001, the average tuition for private law school was $23,000. In 2012 it was $40,500. For public law schools the figures were $8,500 and $23,600.
It appears the application plunge is unique to law schools. Medical school applications have risen steadily in the past decade. Enrollments to MBA are holding their own as well.
To reverse the trend, some law schools are placing more emphasis on practical skills courses, clinical training and field work. The idea is to give students the tools to hit the ground running – and start making money – right after graduation.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, a liberal arts graduate who didn’t know what to do went to law school,” Professor Henderson 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.”
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Back when he attended law school, his tuition for the entire three years combined was less than $8,000. firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.