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Lawyer Glut
Signs of a Law School Turnaround

It’s been a never-ending torrent of bad news for law schools in the last few years—fewer applicants, fewer jobs for graduates, and signs of upheaval in the industry. But the precipitous decline in law school enrollment may finally be showing signs of abating, as the National Law Journal reports:

Legal educators are cautiously optimistic that the 2015-16 academic year will mark the low point for law school enrollment, and that the number of applicants next year will start to recover from a five-year slide…

Two data points fuel their hopes. With the admissions cycle wrapping up, the number of applicants to American Bar Association-accredited law schools declined by a modest 2 percent compared with the previous year — the smallest reduction in four years, according to the Law School Admission Council. The number of applicants fell by more than 10 percent each year from 2011 to 2013.

Meanwhile, the number of people taking the Law School Admission Test has increased in each of the three sitting since December — spiking 6.6 percent last month. “Historically, the June LSAT is the start of the new admissions season for law schools, and June along with October have the largest number of first-time test takers,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director of prelaw programs for Kaplan Test Prep. “There’s reason for optimism.”

Prospective lawyers might be tempted to interpret the new numbers as evidence that the JD is recovering. And there may be something to this—the market for legal services in the 1990s and the early 2000s was grossly inflated, and the decline in applications over the last five years represented a much-needed market correction.

But those contributing to the uptick in applications should know that the legal profession will likely never be the automatic ticket to a middle class life it once was. Innovations in information technology are continuing to eat away at the available jobs for recent graduates, and despite the supposed recovery in the industry, only six in 10 newly minted JDs found jobs as lawyers last year. Law schools are overdue for downsizing and reform—perhaps even for integration into undergraduate programs—to adjust to these new realities.

The bursting of the law school bubble was not just a result of the sluggish post-recession economy; it was symptomatic of a broader crisis that the industry has yet fully to come to terms with. While the latest ABA and LSAT numbers show that applications may have reached their nadir, at least for now, they should not be interpreted as evidence that the high-flying industry of a decade ago will come back anytime soon.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    We do have to wonder why we can’t train “lesser” lawyers for specific areas of practice and not put all of them through seven years of college to be permitted to do anything.

    • CapitalHawk

      Yes, we do. In days past a person could sit for the bar without having graduated from (or even attended) law school. The requirement that a person must have graduated from an ABA approved law school to even take the bar exam is straight up protectionism. The Bar Association of each state is really nothing more than an old fashioned guild. And old fashioned guilds generally are not interested in reducing the price of their wares for customers.

      You could say the same for many professions, by the way (CPA, MD, and more if I gave it some thought). The requirement that a person graduate from schools that are in some way accredited is a make-work provision for professors. If someone could self-teach and then pass the relevant exam, it would seem they are qualified for the profession. If not, then the exam is not serving its purpose.

  • Josephbleau

    Rumplole of the baily is more than qualified to represent the criminal class with profit .

  • Silverfiddle

    Great… Just what the country needs… More lawfare… As an added bonus, many of them will probably go into poly-tics

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