The LSAC is reporting that based on preliminary numbers, law school applications for classes beginning in the fall of 2013 are down an eye-popping 24.6% over last year. The number of applicants is down 22.4%. Last year’s numbers were themselves rather stark. LSAC reported that 68,000 people applied to law school last year, down 13.7% from last year (which saw a 10% decline from the year before). It appears that the chorus of “Is law school worth it?” heard from both the legal and mainstream media in recent years has caused many potential law students to change their plans.
Despite the drop-off in applicants, law schools are admitting about the same number of students they have for the last decade. In 2004 a record-high 100,600 individuals applied to law school, but just 56% (or 55,900) were admitted. Compare that to 2011, when 71% of the 78,500 applicants were accepted to law school. Class sizes, already down 7.7% last year, are set to shrink again this year. However, it is unlikely that they will shrink as much as the applicant pool, particularly given the fact that the number of ABA-approved schools has actually increased since 2004. Thus, three-quarters of current applicants (or more) may obtain admission to the law school class of 2016.
Some might argue that while law school admissions are less competitive overall, top-ranked schools can still be highly selective. That is true, but it may be changing. Jerry Organ of the Legal Whiteboard wrote in August that 111 law schools saw declines in their LSAT/GPA profiles between its 2010 and 2011 classes. With applications once again down precipitously, it is likely that schools will again see declines in these credentials this year.
I see a silver lining, however. While LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs correlate with success in law school, the link to becoming a successful lawyer is more tenuous. One characteristic that is essential to a legal career, however, is harder to measure on an application – the desire to practice law.
If there is an upside for the legal industry in these dismal numbers, it is that a legal career is no longer viewed as simply a safe, and lucrative, career path. No really – bear with me. As in other industries, some lawyers will find job security and financial success while others struggle. Thanks to rabble-rousers like Paul Campos and projects like Law School Transparency, the risks of a legal career are more knowable to prospective lawyers than ever. As a result, potential lawyers are better equipped than ever to weigh those risks against the strength of the legal aspirations.
Posted by Emily Fisher