The all-time high of 1L enrollments was three short years ago, in 2010, at over 52,000, about 30% above this year’s number. Here it is graphically:
Meanwhile, The National Law Journal’s story on this quotes University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Jerome Organ writing in an evidently off-handed fashion, without comment or analysis, that “most law schools see further declines in their LSAT and GPA profiles.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this—that the decline in applicants/enrollees has been especially high among the more academically qualified students—but it certainly begs for an explanation. My hypothesis, divorced from empirical basis at this point, is that the brighter students have more options. But not to cast aspersions.
There’s more: In recent years, average graduating class size (3L’s, that is, and to state the obvious there’s shrinkage between 1L and 3L numbers) has been about 44,000. We’re now over 10% short of the number of students law schools have been graduating recently. This means that, for all practical purposes, law schools below the elite tier have become open enrollment.
But back to dynamic markets.
Admirable and swift has been the reaction of prospective law students to the changed legal marketplace since 2008—2010. Some people may not like what has happened, and many more may be completely baffled about how to respond, but this is the way markets are supposed to behave. Econ 101: When demand drops, supply should follow. As the WSJ drily puts it, “those considering legal careers appear to be paying attention.”
All the evidence so far, however, is that law schools are really not—or they’re not acting on what they’re seeing. If you beg to differ, I ask you merely to read on.
This raises a host of questions about the business models for law schools going forward—especially standalone, independent law schools—as the always reliable Bill Henderson points out with understatement:
“It is a big drop-off,” said William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law who has written extensively on the legal profession. “The wind has been at our backs for many, many decades, and we haven’t really had to operate like a lot of businesses, with adjusting to swings in demand.”