Law Schools Are Innovating To Counter Low Enrollment
As law schools are seeing decreasing enrollment across the nation, institutions have been forced to innovate to attract more applicants.
According to figures by the American Bar Association, total J.D. enrollment for ABA-approved law schools fell to 110,951 for the Fall of 2016 — a decrease of 2,949 students (2.6%) from 2015. Law schools, in turn, have started new programs and beefed up their curriculum to cater to a wider applicant base.
Jonathan Moules recently wrote a Financial Times article discussing how law schools are innovating the law education to attract more enrollment.
At the University of Maryland Carey Law School, a new start-up incubator — the Law Entrepreneurs for Access Program — has been launched for students interested in how entrepreneurship and law work together. According to University of Maryland’s website, “the incubator program teaches participants the business of running a law practice, helping them to lay a foundation for becoming successful legal practitioners. As they build their practices, incubator participants will also devote a portion of their billable hours to providing legal assistance in areas of unmet legal needs to under-served clients on a low-cost and pro bono basis.”
Increasing need for JD/MBA
Law schools are increasingly adjusting to meet the need of students interested in pursuing both business and law. New York University and Harvard University now offer joint JD/MBA programs. Northwestern University students can simultaneously earn a JD degree from Northwestern School of Law and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management in three years. It previously took five years to complete both degrees individually.
Daniel Rodriguez is dean of the Northwestern School of Law. Rodriguez tells Financial Times that law and business are increasingly intertwined.
“Clients increasingly expect their lawyers to be fully conversant with modern business practices,” he says. “Educating our students in these areas is a priority.”
Donald Tobin is dean at Carey Law School. He says decreasing enrollment is a main incentive behind new course content, but adds that the ABA has encouraged law schools to set requirements that better prepare students for a law career.
“Law schools are far more responsive to their students than they used to be because we have to be,” he tells Financial Times.
A Changing Legal World
Perhaps the biggest reason behind the drop in law school enrollment is the decline in job opportunities for law grads. According to a report by the National Association for Law Placement, law grads from the class of 2015 saw fewer private practice jobs than any other graduating class in the past two decades.
Financial Times reports that many law firms are “taking on fewer recruits because their corporate clients have cut their legal spending since 2010.” The changing legal world
affects entry level law jobs the most. Entry level roles, such as data discovery, are either being outsourced to cheaper locations or replaced through automation.
Barry Currier is managing director of the legal education section at the ABA. He tells Financial Times that prospective law students are hesitant about racking up six-figure debt with no guarantee of job placement at graduation.
“Many of the jobs available may not provide the money needed to keep current on student loan payments,” he says.
The changing legal market has forced schools to make changes and Currier says those changes benefit current law students the most.
“Some schools are designing programs like two-year JDs as no degree can be less than 24 months under our rules,” Currier tells Financial Times. “You can speed things up and that gets you into the job market.”
Sources: Financial Times, American Bar Association, University of Maryland Carey School of Law, National Association for Law Placement