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After Years of Decline, Are Law School Applications Rebounding?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 23, 2015 2:59 PM

For years, law schools have been cutting class sizes and even shutting down in response to declining enrollment. Over the past five years, the amount of law students has plummeted 20 percent. There are now fewer law students than any time since 1977. It seems like America's best and brightest youth had forsworn law school for investment banking, tech degrees, or a summer internship with ISIS. You know, careers with a future. (We kid, of course.)

But that trend may be reversing according to new LSAC data which shows -- shock of shocks -- a significant increase in students sitting for the LSAT.

You've Got to Fall to Get Back up Again

The number of potential law students sitting for the LSAT peaked in 2009, when 171,514 tests were administered. That was a growth of 13.3 percent from the year before, fueled in part by applicants seeking to escape the faltering economy -- and by the fact that the legal market hadn't reached its full Great Recession downswing by that time.

Since then, the amount of LSAT takers and law school applicants has decreased rapidly. Only 101,689 LSATs were administered in last year's testing round, a decline of almost 70,000 from the 2009 peak. There were only about 38,000 law students in 2014, a drop of 30 percent from four years before. Today, there are as many law students as there were in the late 70's -- and that was when there were 50 fewer law schools.

But the 2015 testing and application cycle could be the year the tide turns. The LSAT has seen increases of 6.6 and 7.4 percent in its June and September testing sessions, respectively. And though the law school application process is still going on, schools are already seeing their application pool increase about 3.0 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog.

Quantity, Yes. Quality? Too Soon to Tell.

The increase in applicants is sure to solve at least a few law schools' problems -- mainly, how to keep themselves in business. But it won't solve them all. It's too soon to tell if this year's cohort of applicants will have credentials nearing their peers ten years ago, but for the past several years, law school applicants median LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs have declined.

Schools have struggled to maintain their selectivity when faced with fewer candidates and candidates with less impressive backgrounds. Just a year ago, for example, Inside Hire Ed reported on law schools competing for students that they would not have even admitted a few years ago. The piece was depressingly titled "Lowering the Bar."

A greater volume of applicants should help at least some schools maintain their selectivity, however. And frankly, when it comes to law school these days, any good news is great news.

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