Quick! Get into Harvard Law School While You Can!

Published: Dec 06, 2012

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Yesterday, Professor Jonathan D. Glater of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, wrote in the New York Times that right now is, in fact, a great time for you to apply to law school. Not because the economy is on the upswing or because legal hiring is predicted to grow in the next few years—but because it’s easier to get in.

Why is it easier to get in to law school right now? Because fewer people are applying.

And why are fewer people applying? Because, for many students, law school is a mistake.

A law school diploma is no longer a sure ticket to a job, let alone a life of luxury. Yet a six-figure income seems almost essential for grads facing an average debt load of $125,000 from private law schools and $75,000 from public institutions.

Unfortunately, landing one of these law firm jobs is far from guaranteed. In fact, of the schools whose graduates have the highest average debt upon graduation, the average full-time employment rate is just under 50%--and that includes all types of employment, not just BigLaw (where, by the way, only 8% of the class of 2011 got jobs, according to the Wall Street Journal).

This is not going to change because fewer people are applying to law school—especially since fewer applicants does not necessarily mean fewer admitted students.

According to Professor Glater, “if fewer people are applying to law school, then there is less competition overall for spots.” This is obviously true. Also, I’ve heard it’s really easy to get a reservation at the worst restaurant in New York City.

Glater goes on to argue that “the number of test-takers earning higher scores on the LSAT has declined more than the number of students who earn lower scores…. That means that an applicant who scores well may have a better shot of getting into a highly selective institution than in years past, and perhaps of getting  a more generous aid package as a result of competition over students with high scores.”

This is good news for a very small percentage of applicants: 1) those with great LSAT scores and viable post-graduate career plans to pay off their loans (i.e., it’s likely that they’ll get a corporate job AND they are willing to stay in said job for ten years), or 2) those with great LSAT scores who are awarded significant financial aid packages.

But the danger of Professor Glater’s argument is that it ignores the very reason that there are fewer applicants to law school. Legal hiring is down. Tuition continues to rise. Not everyone can get a job in BigLaw. Not everyone wants a job in BigLaw. Many public interest positions don’t pay enough to justify taking on $100,000+ of student loans.

So please: don’t sign up for the next LSAT because you think you’ll have a better shot of getting in to law school. Applying for law school—just like any big investment—should be done only after careful consideration of your goals and finances.