February 9, 2006

Declining applications to law school.

There's been a 9.5 percent decline in applications to law school this year, after a 4.6 decline last year. What's going on? Is it some difference in what's on TV? The end of the refugees from the dot-com bust? An upswelling of interest in medical school? A new fear of debt? Something we lawprof bloggers have done?

CORRECTION: John points out that "dot.com"is incorrect, as trying to pronounce it makes obvious. Discussed here. The NYT had "dot-com," as I see on closer inspection.


Charles said...

I would do some vaguely snarky comment about lawyers in general, but has anyone looked at where the upsurge is for post-bachelor education? Also, might look at the economy, general college numbers vs the population in general. Maybe there are some other colleges that are "easier"? Might take a look at an accelerated degree program that takes less total time, which seems to be gaining popularity. Some schools, not just for law, are going after non-traditional and older students for the career change.

Art said...

I see a couple of things. I run into lots of lawyers who have abandoned their profession because they don't find it fulfilling.
Kids hear about these things.
Remember, too, that the current generation was all born after the Reagan revolution and entered high school after the Gingrich revolution. Both added trial lawyers, due to their anti-party activities, to the list of those who are demonized along with unionized school teachers and welfare mothers.

Seven Machos said...

Economy down: law school applications up.

Economy up: law school applications down.

I would have been curtly rejected in, say, 2001 at the law school to which I was accepted in 1997.

CB said...

I wouldn't read too much into it; I'm pretty sure it's primarily a correction of the inflated numbers of a few years ago. This is good news for those of us who were among those inflated numbers--the legal job market will hopefully improve by, oh, 2011.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
faster said...

It's probably the combination of an improved economy and a weak legal jobs market lately. I wonder what the kids are doing these days though. What's hot?

Dave said...

Ann: I would say it's a combination of a stronger economy, and the costs associated with law school.

Law school is three years of foregone income, in addition to tuition and books and room and board.

It is a very expensive proposition, in light of the fact that most people can otherwise be gainfully employed.

Combine that with the fact that the vast majority of lawyers (at least those I speak to) are miserable in their jobs, and it doesn't surprise me to see that applications to law school have been declining.

I have been expecting this to happen for a while.

bearbee said...

”When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty.

When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace.

When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.”

Lin Yutang (1895-1976), Chinese-American writer, translator, and editor

"The U.S. has seventy percent of the world’s lawyers but only five percent of the world’s population,.."

Are There Too Many Lawyers?


Nick said...

Why is this a bad thing? While I understand you are a law prof, and thus have a vested interest in the number of law school applicants, it is also very important to ask, can this country afford to support the number of lawyers out there?

Fewer lawyers means fewer people looking for stuff to sue over. Sounds good to me.

Ann Althouse said...

I didn't say it's a bad thing.

Anyway, it occurs to me that the same number of persons might be applying to law schools but that they are getting better at picking which law school they want to go to that will accept them. It is surprisingly predictable. Look at how the article says that Yale -- the top-ranked law school -- keeps the same number while the other schools decline. I'm thinking the number of applicants might be more stable, but that they are strewing around fewer applications as the process becomes more precisely analyzable.

Truly said...

Weak legal jobs market? Then why do I keep hearing about firms raising the salaries of first-year associates?

Maybe they've just gotten wise to reality: you take on a tremendous amount of debt (even if, like me, you attended a state school) that will burden you for the next 30 years. The only way to avoid that fate is to go work for a big firm--an option which is, to say the least, not for everyone.

My first job out of law school was teaching human rights and refugee law at a legal clinic. I loved my job. But it paid so poorly that I couldn't make my loan payments. I imagine there are plenty of law grads out there who would say the same.

If I could do it all over again, I probably wouldn't have gone to law school, frankly.

katiebakes said...

This is anecdotal and I'm sure has been happening for years and years, but the majority of my friends who have graduated from college and gone to work at a paralegal at a law firm while planning on applying to law school ultimately end up hating their jobs and abandoning their law school plans. I think that's pretty interesting, especially considering that many financial-sector drones still want to apply to business school.

angieoh! said...

Add me to the list of law grads who wish they had done something different. The staggering debt and options for new lawyers is enough to make anyone reconsider their choice. Maybe my crusade to encourage college students to do something else is starting to work (although I can't take all the credit!)

tjl said...

Surveys routinely indicate that among the learned professions, we lawyers have some of the lowest rates of career satisfaction and personal happiness. Conversely, we also have high rates of alcoholism and other substance abuse.
Apparently, word gets around.
Perhaps the solution to this problem is an ackowledgement that there is something wrong with the large-firm model, in which you must generate billable hours no matter how little time is left for a personal life.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that a lot of it is money, including factoring in the foregone income. But I also think that you have to look at other post-secondary education too and compare their rates to those of law schools.

Awhile back I remember Business Schools having a much higher application growth than law schools, and an MBA is typically a two year degree, so not that much difference in foregone income.

Finally, as to starting salaries going up, that really only applies to the top students from the better law schools. That is a very small segment of the legal market. There are a lot more new lawyers starting out scraping to get by - and often to pay off rather sizable tuition debt.

nunzio said...


You're confusing cause and effect. Depressed addicts choose careers in law.

Wade Garrett said...

I'm a second-year law student, and my father is an attorney, and he is blown away by how much law school costs these days. Bruce is right about salaries - new lawyers starting off in Buffalo or Madison aren't seeing the rising salaries of the biggest firms in the biggest cities. Those firms come to the UW campus to interview, but every big firm interviews the same 15 students.

I wasn't earning a ton of money in my pre-law school job, so I didn't forego as much income as a lot of other people. But still, out-of-state tuition, or private school tuition, will run you $100,000 for 3 years. It really limits your job search. Can you be a prosecutor, at $35,000 starting salary, and pay those loans off? Can you be a public-interest lawyer? Increasingly, if you're not ranked highly enough in your class to attract offers from the very large firms, the decision to go to law school can really be to your short and medium term, if not your long-term, disadvantage.

I'm Full of Soup said...

In order:
Most Definitely.

Anonymous said...

Q: Something we lawprof bloggers have done?

A: You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the
people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

This is why I have long said that all conservative law professors should be forced to blog.

Eli Blake said...

Probably all of the above.

We have a real problem in math, as well. Anyone with a degree in math could pretty much name where they wanted to live and get a job there, but the problem we have is that so few people are even qualified in basic math that it is hard to recruit math majors, especially at the graduate level. In past years, we have sort of 'covered up' the shortage by importing people from other countries, but with it being harder for them to come here and the major investment of countries like China in building universities and educating their own best minds at home, that is beginning to dry up too.

Maxine Weiss said...

In California, you don't have to go to law school to take the bar. It isn't advisable; but, there have been people who have done it.

Peace, Maxine

RogerA said...

I dont know enough about the law profession to make any judgments--I can only pass on the experience of my niece who graduated from Lewis and Clark, and who didnt take well to the associate system in many large law firms--I know there are many other ways to pursue a career in law--are students in law school genuinely oriented on life in the profession outside law school? I simply dont know.

As to Maxine's point, isnt "reading for the law," still an option in many states?

And finally--jokes about lawyers nothwithstanding, as one of my colleagues pointed out, its fun to make jokes about lawyers until you really need one--then they are indispensible.

J. Cricket said...

That used to be true, Maxine. Not any more. There *is* an education requirement:

Pursuant to Rule VII, Section 2 of the Rules Regulating Admission to Practice Law in California, in order to establish eligibility every general applicant must have

(a) Graduated from a law school approved by the American Bar Association or accredited by Committee of Bar Examiners; or

(b) Completed at least four years of law study in any of the following manners

1. In a law school that is authorized by the State of California to confer professional degrees; is registered with the Committee of Bar Examiners; and which requires classroom attendance of its students for a minimum of 270 hours a year; or

2. In a law office in the State of California and under the personal supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California for at least five years; or

3. In the chambers and under the personal supervision of a judge of a court of record of this state; or

4. In a correspondence law school registered with the Committee of Bar Examiners, and requires no less than 864 hours of preparation and study per year; or

5. By any combination of the methods referred to in this subsection (b).

chuck b. said...

If anyone out there wants to pay my law school tuition and have my indentured servitude afterwards (in the SF Bay Area only) for, say, 20-30 hours a week for a negotiable number of years, I would make a fabulous patent attorney.

I have degrees in chemistry and biochemistry, several years of R&D bench experience, and I've already passed the patent bar.

Otherwise, law school is just too expensive, and I am too old. I have a mortgage, and a significant other who wants my time.

chuck b. said...

Indentured servitude with pay, that is.


Maxine Weiss said...

Joseph W.: You don't have to go to law school. You could simply work as a legal secretary for an attorney, for 5 years, and then be allowed to take the bar.

By that measure, you could be a high school drop-out, but get a job with an attorney for 5 years...take the bar, and join the ranks!

Don't know if anyone's taken that path before, though. But according to the rules, it's ok!

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

Which brings up an interesting question:

If formal education had nothing to do with getting a good job, would people still partake of it?

As far as I'm concerned, if not to get a good job, why bother going to a bricks and motar school?

You could just read and learn on your own.

Peace, Maxine

chuck b. said...

I think there are a lot of things you can learn in school that you can't learn out in the world. Not necessarily things that you'll need, but things that can enlighten you.

Calculus for example. I never use it in my work, but I loved learning about it in school, and I think I'm better for having studied it. If I was as smart as Isaac Newton, I could teach calculus to myself. Alas, I'm so not.

The literature dept at my alma mater offered a whole class on Dante's Inferno that I regret not taking. I would really like to read Dante's Inferno in a classroom situation because I doubt I'd get much out of it if I read it on my own.

jeff said...

I have a cousin who was an immigration attorney for around 20 years. He's now studying to get his RN.

I think dealing with the idiots at the dePortland, OR INS finally wore him down.

X said...

Overall, I enjoyed my legal education. However, I think most grads would be reluctant to suggest going to law school given how tough the job market is for us. Maybe, law student blogs have been providing more information for students to make better decisions about law school. I don't think many of us thought we would be forced to consider temp agencies when we went to law school.