A recent report from the American Bar Association indicates that the number of law school graduates finding jobs that require bar passage has declined by 4%. My experience shows that this has left law schools around the country searching for ways to meet short-term enrollment goals while seeing to the long-term success of their students. Some schools will kick the long-term career can down the road, thinking the goals are mutually exclusive and that right now matters most — but this is not the case.
If they want to improve career statistics for their graduates, law schools need to recruit and enroll the right type of class. I’m not talking about increasing enrollment numbers just to make a class, but rather enrolling students that are the right fit for the institution and what it does best.
These types of students are more engaged and demonstrate the ability to perform well in school, pass the bar exam, and get a job within 10 months of graduation — critical factors in a law school’s success in the annual rankings. Our analysis also shows that prospective students value rankings and reputation as the most or second-most important factors when evaluating potential schools.
FORGET THE SHOTGUN APPROACH
Enrollment pressures and attracting the “right” students have, unfortunately, become systemic problems in legal education, but they can be overcome. It starts with law schools changing their recruitment philosophy. They can no longer afford to be all things to all people.
For too long, law schools have adopted the shotgun approach, bombarding potential students with all the wonderful things they have to say about their institution. But students are individuals and have unique sets of values, and they must be persuaded on an individual basis. The shotgun approach is a good reason why many law schools look identical in their message and marketing.
Law schools must focus on the one or two things that will persuade an individual to apply and enroll. To do this, schools must understand students’ behavior on an individual level. They must research what is of value to each individual to align with the institution’s strengths. This personalization leads to stronger leads, more applications, and better outcomes.
For example, if a prospective student loves the Deep South, they are not going to go to law school in New York or California. If another student is interested in international law, they are not going to go to a school that doesn’t offer an international law program, or that has a low-ranked one. Common sense, right? So why do schools still court students who obviously are not a fit for them? Instead of investing money in trying to recruit these students, they should be taken out of consideration right away.
A REDIRECTION OF RESOURCES
The money saved from not investing in these students can be applied toward generating better data on prospective students who are a greater fit for a law school’s key programs.
One law school I work with is an excellent example of this approach. Instead of talking to prospective students about the entire institution, they put their recruiting muscle behind a handful of focus areas. This allows them to highlight students that are more serious about the school and track how deeply they are going with research of specific tracks. The deeper the dive, the more engaged the student becomes. The more engaged, the more the student knows about the school — and the more they know, the higher probability they will apply and matriculate.
The results have been tremendous. These schools have seen significant growth in their applications. Their enrollments have grown. Their career placements and rankings have increased, too. All of these things need to happen if schools are to ascend in the annual rankings.
Most prospective students see rankings, bar passage, and employment rates as the first hurdle to even consider an institution. And while the pressure is constantly present to hit enrollment targets to fund the school, the school must also attract, pursue, and enroll the right students. Prospective students become as invested in your institution as you are in them. This type of student recruiting is what is needed to end the kicking-the-can cycle.