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Survey Says: Supply of Law School Seats is Correcting for Demand

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 01, 2013 1:25 PM

And the market begins to correct ...

Our friends at Kaplan Test Prep did another survey related to law school admissions, this time polling admissions officers, and for some of you, this won't be surprising: law schools are cutting incoming seats. Now, we're a little shocked, as this is an example of schools doing the right thing (well, the right thing would be to reverse the trend of ever-increasing, historically-high tuition, but we digress), but we've bourne witness to plummeting application rates for years with little to no reaction from schools.

Until now, that is.

The survey polled admissions staff from over 125 ABA-approved law schools (there are 203 ABA-approved institutions, so that's a heck of a sample size). And for the vast majority of respondents, the consensus seems to be that the sky is falling. The findings include:

  • Fifty-four percent of law school admissions officers report cutting their entering law school classes for 2013-2014 and 25 percent plan to do so again next year. (Kaplan's 2012 survey showed 51 percent of schools cut the size of their first-year classes.)
  • And because the job market is still depressed and depressing, 71 percent of law schools say that they've introduced additional clinical courses and practical training, perhaps aiming for that arguably unattainable standard of "practice ready" graduates.
  • Seventy-eight percent of law school admissions officers think that "the U.S. legal education system needs to undergo significant changes to better prepare future attorneys for the changing employment landscape and legal profession," which puts them in the same boat as President Barack Obama, 79 percent of pre-law students, and 87 percent of recent law grads.
  • And after years of declining demand, 67 percent of admissions officers don't think the three-year of plummeting demand will reverse itself in the 2013-2014 admissions cycle.

Kaplan's press release also points to the demand side of the equation, noting that since the high point in 2010, applications have dropped from 602,300 to 385,400 in 2013, their lowest level in decades. (Though we'd note, again, that prior to the 2010 "wait out the recession in law school" spike, application numbers resided around the 500,000 level, so the level of applications, while depressed, isn't as dramatic as those numbers indicate, nor was it unforeseeable after schools bloated their entering class sizes in 2010.)

The most encouraging note to take away from these results is that, at least for the vast majority of schools, the administration isn't burying its heads in the sand, ignoring reality and praying for a sudden spike in applicants in a year or two. Then again, we're not so sure that admitting fewer students is necessarily the answer.

While it means they can continue to keep high admissions standards (and their corresponding U.S. News Ranking), it also means schools are still pumping out graduates with soul-crushing student loan burdens and little hope of lucrative careers.

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