First Year Law School Enrollment Lowest Since 1975
This is a real downer of a column this week. Doomed relationships, disillusioned graduates, and now, declining enrollments.
That’s the conclusion of the American Bar Association (ABA). As we noted in last week’s column, law school enrollment dropped 11 percent from this time last year. And if you think that’s frightening, take a look at these numbers:
- In 2013, there were 39,675 full-time and part-time first-year students enrolled at ABA-accredited law schools. This represents 4,806 fewer first-year students than in the fall of 2012.
- 2013 first-year enrollees represent a 24.5% decrease in enrollment over 2010, when there was an all-time high of 52,488 students.
- 2013 numbers represent the lowest enrollment since 1975, when 39,038 first-years were enrolled in law school. Even more, there were only 163 ABA-accredited schools in 1975 compared to 202 schools today.
- Roughly two-thirds of ABA-accredited schools (135 schools) reported a decline in first-year enrollment in 2013, with 81 schools showing a decline of 10% or more.
Why is that? First, law schools epitomized a traditional business bubble, with enrollment climbing steadily at the beginning of the century. Once enrollment peaked in 2010, the growth proved unsustainable. At the same time, the great recession, changing business models, and emerging technologies produced a marketplace that required fewer lawyers, according to The Wall Street Journal:
“Many big law firms laid off junior lawyers during the downturn and slashed expenses as clients facing their own financial troubles pressed for discounts. Some lower-level legal tasks that firm associates used to do, such as document review, are now increasingly farmed out to contract attorneys or legal outsourcing companies that can do the work more cheaply.”
As a result, young attorneys flooded the marketplace during a time when they were needed the least. Between rising tuitions and bleak job prospects, law school became a less attractive option to the best-and-brightest students.
To get a clear picture of just how far interest in law school has plummeted in the past three years, check out this chart on LSAT exams:
Still, the ABA report includes some silver linings:
- Nearly a third of ABA-accredited law schools (63 schools) reported an increase in enrollment, with 27 of those schools showing enrollment rising by 10% or more.
- Enrollment in non-J.D. programs, particularly post-J.D. programs like LL.M.s, increased slightly in 2012.
Based on declining enrollment, the ABA believes the marketplace will absorb more law school graduates in the coming year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy will produce positions for 22,000 new attorneys each year through 2020. While enrollment is still 20 to 25% higher than jobs created, candidates will still stand a better chance of landing a job in the coming years. As Poets&Quants reported earlier this month, a job surplus may emerge between 2016 and 2021. To borrow a cliché, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Maybe now is the right time to apply to law school.
Source: ABA Journal, Wall Street Journal, Quartz