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Law school applications down for 2nd straight year

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 5, 2013

Law school applications have dropped precipitously in number in the last year, exacerbating a recent trend, according to a mid-January analysis just released by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC; www.lsac.org).

The LSAC has about 200 member law schools in the U.S, Canada and Australia, and acts as a resource point for students who seek to be admitted to law school. The organization administers the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). There are presently 201 ABA-accredited U.S. law schools.

“We have seen a fairly steep decline over the last two years in the number of LSATs administered, and the number of applicants has followed suit,” said LSAC president Daniel O. Bernstine, in a newsletter published in December 2012. “The early indicators for the 2013 entering class show that the downward trend is continuing this year.”

The actual numbers: There were about 68,000 law school applicants in 2012, a decrease of 18 percent from the high water mark set in 2010. Fewer than 30,000 people had applied in mid-January 2013, and the projection is that there will be fewer than 55,000 total applicants, a decrease of 20 percent—and a decrease of almost 40 percent in the last two years. As it is, the number of actual applications is running 25 percent behind last year’s pace.

There will be between 110,000 to 117,000 LSATs administered in 2013, according to the LSAC, which is a decrease of between 10 and 17 percent.

At the same time, a review of law school applications by the LSAC indicated that more people were applying to 10 or more schools at the same time, while fewer were applying to four schools or less. And Canadian law school applications are holding steady at last year’s pace.

For another comparison, there were only a total of about 8,000 law school applications submitted in the year 2000.

Numerous analysts indicate that current application numbers are down for two primary reasons: a still-down economy and the fact that other recent studies indicate that law firm out-of-law-school hiring is down as much as 50 percent in the last few years.

There have been many up and down cycles in numbers of law school applications over the years, according to the LSAC. But the trend downward may be a permanent one, and legal educators and others are studying ways in which legal education can go forward within this framework of fewer and fewer students.

“Because of the decline in applications, a number of law school deans and other interested educators are looking at future problems and remedies,” said Martin Belsky, who recently stepped down from his position as dean of The University of Akron School of Law and switched over to teaching full-time at that school.

“Among these options, in the short term,” said Belsky, “are reducing the size of entering classes. The problem with that option, of course, is the budgetary implications. Another is to reduce the cost of legal education by using distance learning.”

Belsky said that this last option would involve changing the ABA Rules, which now limit the number of hours that can be taught for this purpose.

Another option for individual law schools, he said, “is to carve out a number of specialties and focus on recruitment of students and even lawyers for certificates and advanced degrees in those areas. Another option is to increase revenue by offering continuing education to non-lawyers, including special seminars, short courses and training on site at businesses, hospitals and government offices.”

The government may also have to get into the act, he said. “Pressure is also mounting to decrease the regulatory burden on law schools from the accrediting agencies so more experimentation is possible.”

Finally, some schools, he said, “are considering having two years of traditional legal education and the third year as either optional or skills and practice training only.”

Even that may only be the beginning. “In the longer term,” said Belsky, “educators are talking about reducing the law school curriculum from a three year full-time to a two year full-time program, or even eliminating the requirement of a law school degree for traditional legal work, which would have a law degree be more like an optional M.B.A.”

Belsky also adds that, after taking the last semester off, he is very excited to be back teaching full-time.