Closing In On The Bottom?

by Nathan Allen on

taking an exam

For over five years, law school critics and advocates alike have been wondering when enrollment and application declines might bottom-out. Spoiler: It’s not this year. But it’s getting closer. The American Bar Association recently released its enrollment report for the most recent class from its 205 accredited law schools. Not surprisingly, based on application amounts, total enrollment dropped yet again to about 113,900.

The good news is, it was only a 5% drop, or about 6,000 fewer law students. The better news? First year enrollment was only 2.2% less than last year. And here’s the best news yet: a whopping 97 schools reported the same or increased first-year enrollment compared to 69 schools reporting the same last year. Only 107 schools reported decreased enrollment, compared to 127 last year.

This year’s 37,058 1Ls, down from 37,894 last year, marks a near 30% decline since the 2010 watermark when 1L enrollment was 52,488. “This is smallest decrease in a while and it seems also like we’ve reached the bottom of the trough,” professor Alfred Brophy of University of North Carolina School of Law told the National Law Journal. Further backing of Brophy’s claim came last week, when the Law School Admission Council announced a 3.4% increase in applications for the entering 2016 class compared to the entering 2015 class at this point last year.

“I thought we might get down to 35,000 first-years before we started turning around. It’s not as bad as I would have expected,” Brophy added.

While law school admissions might be hitting the bottom of the barrel in terms of quantity, it might not be there for quality.

“More strong students left the applicant pool and more weak students joined it,” Bernie Burk, a visiting assistant professor at Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, told the National Law Journal. “We still have yet to see the effect of the last three years of admissions decisions” for current students’ graduation, employment and bar-passage rates,” Burk continued.

Burk, of course, is referring to the continual drop in median LSAT scores and GPAs of incoming students and decreases in bar passage rates. If quality of students begins to increase with applications, it’s logical to see a surge in declining bar passage rates in the next three or so years. Let’s hope so.

Source: National Law Journal

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