Does Decreased Law School Enrollment Signal a Change in Legal Education?

Published: Jan 09, 2014

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Like rats abandoning a sinking ship, prospective law students appear to be fleeing in droves from the once hallowed halls of legal learning, if the American Bar Association’s law school enrollment statistics are any indication of prospective student interest.

Enrollment of first year law students at ABA-accredited law schools for classes that began in Fall 2013 was down 11 percent compared to enrollment for Fall 2012 classes. When comparing the number of incoming students in Fall 2013 to Fall 2010, the distinction is even more stark. Enrollment dropped 24 percent in just three short years. In fact, current enrollment has plummeted to 1977 enrollment levels, when there were about 40 fewer schools than there are today.

So, what do these numbers mean for you?

Those considering law school should consider something else, anything else. Even as swarms of prospective students are giving up on their Law & Order fueled dreams of an exciting legal career, law school enrollment is still 20 to 25 percent higher than the projected market for new J.D. required or J.D. preferred jobs, according Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education policy organization. Additionally, while lower enrollment numbers may mean it could be easier to get into a better school, the $100,000-plus price tag paired with bleak job prospects do not justify any type of “cultural cachet” one might glean from a law degree. The future for potential underemployment, or worse yet unemployment, also nullifies the strategy of attending law school to wait out a difficult job market…I’m looking at you, history majors.

For those already experiencing the institutionalized hazing that is legal education, reduced class sizes may impact you as well. For law students still forced into a curve, (Yalies, do you even bother to buy books anymore?) smaller class sizes may create fiercer competition in an already Thunderdome-like environment. In a smaller curve, the random disbursement of performance is narrower, so the arbitrary cutoffs between grades become more severe. Clawing your way to the top ‘A’ spots could become statistically more difficult, and the distinction between a ‘B’ and a ‘C’ might be just a few sentences. Current students, surely, do not need another career services lecture on the importance of grades when trying to land a job.   

Although decreased law school enrollment may mean that prospective students are finally wising up to the risks associated with attending law school, it also portends future difficulty for those still holding on. Does decreased enrollment dissuade you from attending law school? Do you think smaller class sizes will create more competition? Tell us in the Comments.


Read More:

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The Importance of Law School Grades
Law School Competition  
Law school enrollment down 11 percent this year over last year, 24 percent over 3 years, data shows
‘Cultural cachet’ of a JD is one reason students go to law school, law prof says