With some law schools experiencing enrollment drops this year of as much as 34 percent down from last year’s numbers, it was inevitable that the legal education industry would have to adapt. The NYT looks at how students and law schools are responding to the new reality of lower demand for law school spots. For the students’ part, aspiring lawyers are increasingly using the low demand to bargain for better financial aid or tuition breaks. Schools themselves, especially the “middle-tier” ones, seem to be responding by reducing tuition, freezing tuition, increasing financial aid, or in some cases accepting students with lower GPAs or LSAT scores. More:
Northwestern, in Chicago, like some other well-financed schools, has increased financial aid, calling on alumni for donations, so that 74 percent of first-year students this academic year got aid, compared with 30 percent in 2009. But the sticker price for annual tuition is $56,134, up from $47,202 five years ago. […]
With the declining interest, law schools have been working hard behind the scenes to trim their operations and to expand their offerings of joint degrees in, say, law and medicine. Still they are trying to avoid wholesale cuts in faculty or degrees, steps that would publicly eviscerate their business model and reputation.
“I don’t get how the math adds up for the number of schools and the number of students,” [Northwestern] Professor Rodriguez said. “We all know it’s happening, and we are all taking steps that urgent, not desperate, times call for.”
These changes are largely superficial—they might help along the margins for some students who just needed a little more help to get through the degree, but they are hardly comprehensive responses to the huge shifts the industry is experiencing. Those shifts have really only just begun. Legal work will continue to face increasing automation, and demand for traditional JD programs will come down even further. Law schools will have to respond much more dramatically than this to that fact. As is the case with higher education more generally, many middle tier schools may have to close up shop altogether. The schools that remain may have to experiment with a two year degree. Perhaps law schools will eventually disappear altogether as legal training becomes an undergraduate degree or apprenticeship programs grow. We cannot predict exactly how exactly legal education will look in thirty or forty years, but whatever happens it is clear that the market will force much larger changes than the ones we are currently witnessing.