Sunday, February 3, 2013

The twenty-year drop

There was a lot of press last week about this year's dramatic fall in law school applicants. LawProf and I noted the carnage a few weeks ago: Law schools are about to hit a 30-year low in the number of applicants. The graph, if you haven't seen it, looks like this:


That's pretty dismal. From a peak of 100,000 applicants, reached in both 1991 and 2003, applicants this year will drop below 60,000--and almost certainly below 55,000.

But even this graph doesn't convey the full extent of disenchantment with legal education. The line looks vaguely cyclical. If applicant numbers rose between 1985 and 1991, and again between 1997 and 2003, won't they rise again? Is this just a temporary down-turn?

To answer those questions, and understand the full extent of the shortfall facing law schools, we need to look at law school applicants as a percentage of college graduates. During the last thirty years, the number of college graduates has grown substantially--and those graduates form the pool of potential law school applicants.

As the number of college graduates increased, the tally of law school applicants should have increased or at least remained steady. Instead, when measured as a percentage of college graduates, law school applicants have declined significantly over the last twenty years:


In 1991, the high point for law schools, about 1,100,000 people earned college degrees. The same year, 99,377 people applied to law school--a ratio of 9%. That doesn't mean that 9% of all college seniors applied to law school in 1991; each year's applicant pool includes older graduates along with college seniors. The ratio of applicants to contemporary college grads, however, is an excellent indicator of interest in law school.

This year, approximately 1,750,000 people will earn college degrees. But we project no more than 55,000 law school applicants. The ratio for this year is 3%--just one-third what it was in 1991.

Accounting for the growth in college graduates makes clear that law schools are not suffering a sudden or cyclical drop in applicants. Interest in our degree has fallen fairly steadily over the last twenty years. There was a small uptick of interest during the 2002 recession, but no increase at all during the Great Recession. At best, that more recent recession bought us a short pause in the decline.

What if we measured law school applicants as a percentage of all adults with a college degree? This graph shows the number of law school applicants as a percentage of all college grads over age 25; it complements the previous graph by exploring law school's appeal to older applicants. Here, the decline is even steeper:



These graphs persuade me that the drop in law school applicants is not cyclical; it's not related to the recession and jobless recovery; it's not even based solely on the most recent contraction in the legal market. College graduates have been losing interest in law school--compared to other graduate programs or workplace opportunities--for the last twenty years.

What accounts for that decline? During those same two decades, law school tuition has risen extravagantly:


Even with student loans, we live in a market economy: When price rises, demand usually falls. Law schools thought their consumers were "price insensitive" and continued raising tuition. We didn't see that some students were price sensitive, and were turning away from our degree, because we were floating on a cushion of rising college graduation rates.

Now we've burned through the cushion. The steady decline has reached the point where we'll struggle to fill first-year seats. With poor placement rates, increased transparency about job outcomes, and ongoing shifts in legal practice, it will be very difficult for law schools to reverse this twenty-year trend. If we hope to do so, we have to look candidly at the roots of our long-term slide. One of those roots surely is the price of legal education. Rising cost, falling demand. Simple market economics.





168 comments:

  1. Great overview of the decline in applications. I've never thought of it in terms of % of total college graduates, that is very interesting.

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    1. All hail the new first post king.

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    2. You losers have a bunch of meaningless numbers and graphs. Dean O'Brien has A FUCKING IN TO THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT.

      You losers have a blog. Dean O'Brien (and most law school administrators) MAKE MORE IN ONE MONTH THAN YOU WILL ALL YEAR.

      You losers had delusions of beating law schools in court. They GOT DOMINATING DISMISSALS IN EVERY JURISDICTION.

      You losers have delusions of law schools closing. THEY HAVE FULL CLASSES, MASSIVE SALARIES, NICE CARS, NICE HOUSES AND ON AND ON.

      You = losers.

      They = winners.

      Delete
    3. ^ RAGE TYPING!!!

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    4. "YOU SEE THIS WATCH? THIS WATCH COSTS MORE THAN YOUR CAR" - Anon, 4:22 ("WHAT'S MY NAME? "FUCK YOU" THAT'S MY NAME!").

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    5. 2/4/2013 4:22 A.M.

      Eat the business end of a shotgun.

      Delete
  2. First!

    And great post DJM.

    This makes the scam all the worse. Not only were schools lying about employment; they were ratcheting up tuition costs at the same time.

    It is even more dispicable that schools increased tuition at the rate they did while lying to the students.

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    1. Oops. Next time I'll just post first.

      But the important thing is those graphs are convincing.

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    2. Yep, you got cocky and spent too much time writing your post. LOL

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    3. I thought I was the only one not interested in the football game.

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  3. Forbes released a list of the highest paying majors. Law didn't make the list.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/03/best-college-majors-engineering_n_2553445.html

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    1. I wish 0Ls would learn the wisdom is the already wealthy. No one goes to law school to be rich.

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    2. The study of law isn't about money, it's about service . . . ing large amounts of debt.

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  4. Is there supposed to be a graphic at the very bottom of the post?

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    1. The space at the bottom of the post is a montage of notorious law school scammers (Diamond, Leiter, O'Brien, etc.) with red slashes through their faces a la 1940's era propaganda posters of Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini.

      Below in all caps is the phrase "KEEP UP THE FIGHT."

      Maybe you are using an outdated browser/computer and can't see the graphic???

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  5. I couldn't figure out how to eliminate that space at the end of the post. LawProf, any technical assistance? But this comment raises a good question: maybe I can come up with another graphic!

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    1. I would suggest the graph 8:25 describes.

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    2. I thought it was intended to be a visual depiction of the average law professor's knowledge of the current job market for law school graduates.

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  6. World economy + transparency = not good

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  7. These may be the best charts I've seen on the decline of law school enrollment. I wonder at what point schools stop with the smoke and mirrors and start implementing radical changes to the law school business.

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    1. When there are more seats than applicants. When 100 percent acceptance and enrollment doesn't cover their operating costs. We are getting there more quickly than I ever imagined. Thank you scambloggers.

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  8. DJM, I wonder if you could put a chart overlaying BS/BA degrees and law school applicants. I think their are less people also going to college now. This should contribute to the continued decline in law school enrollment. It would be interesting to see that chart.

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  9. demand is UNLIMITED.. the federal government will give you an UNLIMITED amount of money to pay law school so therefore the decline is applications is NOT yet relevant but it will be eventually.

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    1. What are you talking about? Demand is not unlimited. Once students knew that they would be indebted for life with no employment prospects to pay their loans, they've stopped going.

      Wait and see how many people end up actually attending. If popular news stories about law school being in free fall continue, I think a significant number of people will realize that next year will be even better. Why would anyone pay sticker to go this year? Law school isn't going anywhere.

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    2. I would just like to second 8:35pm here. I'm one of those (few) applicants this year, I have a 4.0 in engineering, a masters degree, relatively high LSAT (got me into Berkeley so far) and I will NOT go to law school this year unless it will be heavily discounted. Blogs like this and other news stories have convinced me that it doesn't make financial or just any sense to pay sticker.

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    3. Same. In at Penn and Northwestern so far with a few other T-20's offers as well. Not attending unless my total debt is under 60K...why bother? They'll just give me more money next year

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    4. Just got into Stanford and Harvard, optimistically waiting to hear from YLS ... But for some reason I have not gotten into a bunch of lower ranked schools I applied to, which means no free rides. (Yield protection)?

      I'm an adult and already have a job, but I'm bored and generally confident i will like being a lawyer given my exposure through my current work. OTOH, I want to do public interest so I'll be relying on LRAPs (which are supposed to be decent at those schools, but still)...

      Should I go?

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  10. This post should should really drive the situation home to the status quo nay sayers.

    The decline is not a blip on the radar, it's not a hysteria driven response to scam bloggers.

    No offense to law school administrators, or professors at this point. We're past that. No joy in seeing jobs lost. Just fact: law school as we know it is going the way of the dodo bird for all of the right reasons, and to deny that is just foolish. The costs of a law degree in relation the "value" as most potential buyers would define it (which we can only now see thanks to LST) is completely outta whack for a major chunk of the ABA approved schools. That's it.

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    1. I'm plenty willing to give offense to the greedy administrators who drove up tuition to astronomical rates.

      They killed their profit center all on their own. And to insure it lasted, they lied about how much a graduate could expect to make and resisted, and laughed at, all efforts at transparency.

      If they had kept tuition to reasonable increases and been honest about employment, they would not be in the throes of collapse.

      My Mom used to say something about not killing the goose that laid the Golden Egg. These idiots killed the goose and ruined the lives of many of their students.

      I feel no pity that they will end up in the same hunt for employment as their grads.

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  11. DJM's best article...

    Those graphs are priceless, one line speaks a million words.

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  12. Go on Google Trends and type in "LSAT." The same softening demand shows since 2004.

    Brian Tamanaha

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    1. Could you explain this more? Which softening demand? The number of LSAT takers per college grad?

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    2. Oh Nevermind! Sorry I didn't realize google trends showed the number of searches for a term.

      Thanks for the insight.

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    3. Try comparing "law school" with "law school scam" on Google Trends. Doesn't look good for the scam profs.

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    4. Wow that's stark. I tried "law school admissions" and "law school advice" both show the same trend.

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  13. This is very interesting. Could you test this hypothesis for business schools too?

    B-schools appear to be continuing to experience an uptick in applications (including post-recession), even if modest, whereas law schools are seeing applications drop. But I believe they have raised tuition at a rate similar to law schools. True, it's 2/3 as long of a degree, but before jumping to that as an explanation I'd be interested to see the same comparison done, in part because on a per-year basis tuition for b-school is often higher, and financial aid significantly stingier, than for law school such that the total cost is often not that different.

    I do think people have been saying "don't go to law school/don't become a lawyer" for a very long time, having nothing to do with cost or getting a job. It's a rough profession. Some people say you don't *need* b-school, but I don't think people think it's a horrible idea (just perhaps too expensive) and few think the idea generally of going into business is bad.

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    1. why is it that LSs publicize (and lie about) job placement whereas top15/20 MBA schools don't?

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  14. We live in a market economy???

    Since when is unlimited credit provided by a government part of a market economy? This whole tuition runaway inflation is nothing more than the creation of the policies of the US government. Get the US government out of the student loan business and then we'll see the market economy at work.

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    1. Well, it isn't the policies as much as the administrators who decided to take advantage of them until they bled their students dry.

      Because school administrators turn out to be untrustworthy bastards , the government is going to have to put some cap and limit on loans.

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    2. Actually, we have crony capitalism. But is there any other kind?

      Once we say political power can be purchased and politicians can legally be bribed (see, Citizens United) the only form of capitalism which can be had is crony capitalism.

      Student loans do not benefit students. They benefit the powerful and wealthy members of the legal establishment.

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  15. This is my favorite DJM post. Graphs and other info are something I haven't seen anywhere else.

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  16. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Great post.

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    1. The only one that really matters to tell the story is the rise in tuition.

      Why and how did that happen? Has any law school defender ever explained where all that money went? And why it was essential to teaching law?

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  17. Interesting, but potentially overstates the case. The population of undergraduate students has changed significantly in the last twenty years as well. The same decline those graphs show happens to also coincide with the rise in for-profit, online degree-granting schools. That would also explain the even more significant drop in the percentage of older graduates applying to law school, since older students are significantly more common at those for-profit schools.

    A better measure might be the drop in applicants as a percentage of the undergraduate population at representative feeder schools, rather than as a percentage of the undergraduate population as a whole.

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  18. In other words, the statement "As the number of college graduates increased, the tally of law school applicants should have increased or at least remained steady" does not hold true, because the 2013 undergraduate population is not the same as the 1991 undergraduate population. Arguably, the percentage of college graduates applying to law school should have declined regardless of anything law schools have done or of the job market facing law students, because the number of college graduates who are realistically law school eligible has likely also decreased as a percentage of the undergraduate population.

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    1. Agree. It would only be telling if the number of applications fell and not the percentage. There are thousands of more people enrolled in colleges in recent years that aren't really college material. (Anecdotal evidence only)

      As an aside, it would be interesting (terrifying) to see the number of under prepared UGs who had no real business in college either. Perhaps after the scambloggers have finished off Leiter and his ilk, they can move onto the liberal arts colleges.

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    2. Not sure if serious. You are making a huge assumption that these students are less likely to go to law school, therefore it is obvious they wouldn't have taken the LSAT or applied to law school. Law schools will admit people regardless of their undergrad institution.

      You also aren't considering that the number of law schools have increased and many of them are for- profit, or not even ABA accredited.

      The number of people graduating interested in gong to law school has dropped over decades. And you are going to assume it is because they aren't as good of students, rather than the ridiculous cost increase kept them away?

      Are you such snobs that you assume Ivy League grads should tell th story of a country full of grads from state schools? How would you know that Ivy League grads are simply less price sensitive, or more likely to get into schools that migh justify the cost, as opposed to grads of their local branch of the local state school.

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    3. How many University of Phoenix graduates are likely to attend law school? There may be some, it's true, but the numbers are going to be far fewer than from a traditional undergraduate institution. This isn't snobbery, it's simply a recognition that the undergraduate population has changed since 1991, and that students are obtaining undergraduate degrees under different circumstances and for different reasons now than they did then. That difference in the undergraduate population is likely to decrease the percentage of the entire undergraduate population who attend law school, regardless of any other factors. Failing to account for that change in the undergraduate population is a fairly massive flaw in the article.

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    4. It may be worth mentioning here that law schools are not the only educational "scam" going right now; many of the new for-profit institutions also fall in that category.

      Nor are those institutions the only change in the ungergraduate demographics in the last twenty years, either. My point isn't to disparage certain students or schools, it's simply to recognize that times have changed in ways that are likely to affect the percentage of undergraduates that attend law school, whatever changes have occurred in law schools or the market for law students.

      I say this as a former student of Brian Tamanaha who broadly agrees with the conclusions of his recent book. I'm merely pointing out that these particular statistics do not necessarily tell the story they are being represented as telling.

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    5. How many university of Phoenix grads are there? It must be possible to find a stat of grads of schools that are not just online?

      If you think the drop is because of the increase in number of grads from University of Phoenix, and not because of decreasing interest in law or because of the cost, I think you are delusional.

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    6. It's not just the University of Phoenix graduates, although there are tens of thousands of those alone each year. It's the demographics of the current undergraduate population as compared to the undergraduate population of twenty years ago. The differences are fairly profound. That's not to say that no decline in interest has occurred, just that these statistics do not demonstrate it.

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    7. University of Phoenix isn't the point, though, I just used it as an example of the changes in the undergraduate population in the last twenty years. There have been many other changes as well, in terms of who chooses to attend college, the type of programs offered, the expectations of the students who enter those programs, etc. Simply comparing the percentage of undergraduate students who chose to apply to law school in 1991 to the percentage who chose to apply today doesn't reflect the reality of a changing educational system.

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    8. Plus, for the article to make its point, the percentage must have not merely declined, but declined dramatically, more than would have occurred in a standard cyclical application trend. Although I would not be surprised if such a decline had occurred (although maybe not--the job prospects for the average English Lit or History major are pretty bleak as well, and law school remains as much of a means of delaying entry to the real world as ever), I can't say that these statistics prove it.

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    9. Keep telling yourself this is cyclical. Get back to me on that in a few years if tuition doesn't drop.

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    10. You seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that I'm taking the position that it is cyclical. I'm not. I'm just criticizing the use of statistics here, which I think is flawed.

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  19. I agree that the BA population has changed a lot ....really interesting data would be:

    what % of the Ivy Leagues and Seven Sisters grads have applied to LS?

    what about graduates from the Top 100 U/G programs?

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    1. That's right. Only the most priveleged can tell this story.

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    2. This isn't a snobbery thing, this is a statistics measuring thing. Graduates of Ivy League institutions and Top 100 undergraduate programs are students who would have applied to law school in 1991 and today, providing a relatively similar population to measure, without having to account as much for the changes that have occurred in the broader undergraduate population.

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    3. Fine, lets find the number of grads who graduated from schools that are more than 20 or30 years old.

      I will bet you that the decline in interest in law is evident.

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    4. I'm not sure how that responds to the concern I raised. The age of the schools isn't really relevant, it's the demographics of the students.

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    5. You mean more minorities and poors?

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    6. Well, off the top of my head, one of the more significant is the fairly dramatic increase in older students. The average age at U of P is in the mid-thirties, as an example. The sizable increase in enrollment at private, for-profit institutions, which tend to emphasize different fields of study than traditional institutions, and other institutions unlikely to generate many law students. A significant increase in part-time enrollment by students working full-time. A significantly higher percentage of the high school population attending college. The increase in students majoring in STEM fields. The increase in cost of an undergraduate education, combined with the amount of student loan borrowing by undergraduate students.

      For what it's worth, there has been an increase in minority, particularly Hispanic, and female enrollment; it's perhaps less obvious what effect that's likely to have on law school applications, if any.

      But ha ha, you weren't looking for a real answer, were you?

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    7. Oh, and re: "poors"--I don't know one way or the other if it's true that more people from lower economic strata are attending undergraduate schools now than in the past, but to the extent it is true, it seems to me that there might be some statistically significant difference in the rate at which those students would be willing to accumulate three years of additional debt, when compared to other students. Just speculation, though.

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  20. Have to say I'm not sure if analysis on the basis of annual BA grads or total grads over 25 is all that meaningful or demonstrates that the absolute number of law students isn't cyclical. Law swchool apologists are likely to argue that all it demonstrates is that a decreasing percentage of BAs are enrolling as law students, but this isn't a surprise when you consider that although the number of BA grads has increased, this increase has been driven in large part by less academically successful students enrolling in university. Less academically able BA graduates, the argument will go, are less likely to enroll as law students due to lower expectations.

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    1. Wait, there are more potential applicants, but a steadily decreasing number of applicants, yet you don't see that as showing a decrease in interest for applying?

      You prefer to assume all the increase in grads are lower quality students who would never have made it in law school, so they didn't even take the test to try?

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    2. I don't take either point of view - but put yourself in the shoes of the law school shill and ask yourself what argument they might make. Clearly, yes, the number of BA grads has increased - but do you really think the pool of law school applicants includes all BAs in reality? Or is it possibly just a sub-set of them? And what if this subset hasn't grown as quickly as the overall number of BAs?

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    3. I agree, FOARP. Sometimes - many times, in fact - this kind of coffee break analysis doesn't clarify much at all. Too many assumptions and generalizations to draw anything but an assumed and generalized conclusion. Looks good, but fails to take into account any of the meaningful complexities of the system.

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    4. This appears to be more along the lines of "things look worse if you measure by X, Y, and Z" when actually these aren't really important metrics. The only thing that matters is the overall figure of how many people are studying (which apparently shows a cyclical trend long-term) compared to the number of jobs available (which is roughly stable).

      Obviously some people will be inclined to say that this means that we're at the bottom of the market and things are going to turn the corner soon. There's good reasons to doubt this, not least being the spell the legal profession has held over graduates as a sure-fire path to wealth seems to have been broken. However, the decline in enrolment as a percentage of the overall pool of graduates is not one of them.

      Put simply, if you were told that the number of people training to be in profession X had stayed the same, but that this figure had declined as a percentage of graduates since the number of graduates had increased, would you really conclude that profession X had become 'less attractive' to graduates?

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  21. LST lists the number of entering students for each ABA law school for the classes that entered in the fall of 2010 and 2011, but not for last fall yet. Does DJM,Lawprof or anyone know when LST will publish the entering class numbers for fall 2012?

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    1. Er, you could always email LST. It's not hard to get a hold of them.

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  22. Part of this is recognizing that a law school education is everyone's second choice. Many law students would rather do something else. Perhaps they might want to be a musician, or a writer, or an actor, or an artist.

    However, many students realize their preferred careers do not offer many employment opportunities. Thus, law school appeared to offer a comfortable lifestyle and was an acceptable compromise.

    But once it becomes apparent that the odds of one making it in law are about as good as making it as a musician, a writer, an actor or a painter, the whole reason for going to law school vanishes.

    Plus, one does not have to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to fail as a musician.

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    1. Right. There is this false mindset when you are a kid that all those activities you do and skills you acquire have a value to someone and there will be a payoff for them at the end of the tunnel. Most guys knew they weren't 6'10" so pro basketball wasn't an option. They didn't know they weren't born with a book of business such that practicing law was a fantesy job too.

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    2. Everyone wants to be a musician, a writer, an actor, or an artist. So what?

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    3. I guess the point is that the people going to law school thought they were making the right choice.

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    4. This is a very insightful observation. A compromise is no longer acceptable if success is unlikely (or even just uncertain).

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    5. "I guess the point is that the people going to law school thought they were making the right choice."

      I gave up screenwriting to go to law school. I wasn't a slouch - I had a film optioned on contingency with a smaller company that fell through, and I had a lot of interest in another of my projects - but I wanted something stable. Law school sold me on the idea of a stable career that would make a good return on investment instead of waiting tables and trying to hone my craft while drinking heavily.

      Now what do I do? Wait tables and drink heavily. I try going back and working on the writing, but it's not there anymore. I don't know who this person is who wrote all these old scripts. I feel old and washed up instead of the creative young dude I was just 5 years ago.

      But I have a law degree, cum laude style. I can do anything.

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    6. 8:36! HAHA! I feel your pain brother. I was in the same boat. Except, I wasn't as successful as you were. (I know a lot of people on here won't think that optioning, but never selling, a screenplay is a success, but I've been there, and it's TOUGH). Luckily I dropped out after the first 5 weeks of school. Sorry that you lost the muse. I'm in the same place.

      Thought this might give you a little comfort. Just put pen to pad, skip a night out once in awhile, don't let the scammers kill ya.

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    7. You can get back your mojo. Don't give up on it.

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  23. I'd point out that in the first graph, there is a strong decline during the late 90's, which made sense - a young person could get a good job right out of the gate. I have a feeling that as the economy improves, that will accelerate the trend.

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    1. Barry . . . Obama?

      The enomomy is not really improving my friend, -.1 % growth in the fourth quarter, a 7.9 unemployment rate that would be almost 10 if 9 million people hadn't stopped looking for work, and the majority of the newest jobs are low-wage.

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    2. I'm assuming in the future.

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  24. Steve Diamond has blocked my IP from his blog.

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    1. Try TOR or Ixquick

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    2. Ixquick works at showing Diamond's blog.

      Interesting - I wonder what criteria he was using to ban IP addresses...

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    3. He probably targeted IP addresses that began visiting his site around the time he posted on JDU.

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  25. @February 4, 2013 at 5:20 AM

    Steve Diamond is a jerk.

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  26. >>I would just like to second 8:35pm here. I'm one of those (few) applicants this year, I have a 4.0 in engineering, a masters degree, relatively high LSAT (got me into Berkeley so far) and I will NOT go to law school this year unless it will be heavily discounted. Blogs like this and other news stories have convinced me that it doesn't make financial or just any sense to pay sticker.

    WTF? "this year," so you will go next year? Why are you going at all? Please, please use this year off to actually hang out with people who are lawyers and see what you are signing up for. Maybe get an MBA or something, I don't know, but definitely DO NOT go to law school.

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    1. Why I'm going: I've been interested in patent law since I started working in private sector pharma research 5 years ago. I don't like my current job as much as I did 3 years ago, ready to move on.

      Not sure why there is this notion that law school is absolutely positively a terrible idea no matter what. I know employment prospects suck for the great majority of lawyers, but if you could go to Harvard or Columbia for no tuition, you had money saved up for COL, and you actually did the research and genuinely thought you'd enjoy practicing law, wouldn't you do it?

      Delete
    2. Well, I went to Columbia for free and I lived at home. So I can't tell you not to do so.

      But I'm not expecting to make partner here . I don't think I'll be doing corporate law in 10 years because I'm honestly not the in- house type either .

      I'm not planning on a career in law forever. We'll have to see what happens. I'm just glad that I have no debt to service. I would not have taken on debt to go.

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    3. @9.53 - Sorry to tell you this, but you shouldn't be going to law school if you want to work in patenting. Take the patent bar instead and become a patent agent - you don't need a 120K JD to sit it, in fact, anyone can sit it so long as they have a technical background. Or better yet, find someone to employ you as a technical assistant and pay you to learn patent law - the USPTO may have gone on a hiring freeze a few years back, but as I understand it it's over. Can't find that kind of employer? Then maybe you won't get a job in patenting even with a JD.

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    4. Columbia has a sky high unemployment rate for its older classes. Try solos working out of their homes, lawyers who are counsel to a small firm that gives them only a website spot, no office and no salary. Maybe if they bring the firm some work, the lawyer will earn a little income, but maybe not.

      Even without debt,there is no place to go after BigLaw. At that point most law firms that will pay even $80,000 a year are not an option because of up or out. Law firms have strict anti experienced lawyer hiring policies unless that lawyer has a huge amount of portable business. In house is mostly people in their 30s and 40s. After that, without a managerial position, it is curtains for most lawyers. There are few in house positions in any event, and many are short-lived.

      I am looking at BA required position that pays half of what a first year associate makes to retrain. The other people in that position will be a generation younger than me.

      So much for my Columbia Law degree. It is useless, even for free after a few years of practice for many grads, including me.

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  27. It would be very interesting to see more detailed information as to yield and application distribution. By yield I mean the number of successful applicants who chose not to take up the offered place in law school.

    By application distribution what I mean is that some law schools will get a lot of applications per seat, some very few - but the interesting issue is how many will not go to a lower ranked school if they don't get an offer from say a T-14 or T-20.

    Thos numbers could tell whether some schools are going to have such a shortfall in 1Ls as to jeopardise their future

    ReplyDelete
  28. You have to be careful with that. People are learning, if they didnt already know, how regional hiring is. So people might go to the best lower ranked school in their region , rAther than go to a T20 across the country from where they want to work.

    ReplyDelete
  29. "Steve Diamond has blocked my IP from his blog."

    Wow - he banned my ip address too, on multiple devices - which is weird, since I never did anything on his blog other than read it.

    I wonder if he has whitelisted a small group of people, or if he simply banned everyone who started reading his blog recently, or if he just screwed it up, being "a Silicon Valley" law professor and all.

    I do have some marginal amount of sympathy for all the law school professors that are going to losing their jobs in the next few years, but I have none for Diamond.

    Of course, even the law professors who keep their jobs are going to start discovering the joys of teaching three classes a semester, instead of teaching two classes one semester, and one class the following semester.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I assume that Campos will report on NYU's Rob Howse's latest fantasy that international students are going to save the law schools.

    ...because there is an infinite supply of foreigners willing to front 120K-150K to go to law school (remember, no Federally guaranteed student loans for them...)

    Again, there is an eerie resemblance to the real estate crash - when some people pointed out that houses sure looked overpriced, the response was that "immigrants" were going to buy these houses, and prop up the housing market.

    ReplyDelete
  31. You can make whatever point you want out of this data. For example, you could say that the drop in applicants therefore has nothing to do with increased transparency in employment statistics or the scambloggers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. Each one of the previous post-recession bubbles had a higher "arc" before settling down, even though they were less severe recessions and the reasons for higher applications post-recession persist in our economy.

      2. The drop on both gets sharper starting around 2010ish. Wait until the 2013 data comes in fully, and you'll see a much steeper drop 09-13 than you did in 01-05 or 91-95.

      Delete
  32. Can't wait for my next quarterly "letter from the Dean." All they ever are are about how great the school is, how the students are winning all kinds of awards (but no jobs), and the professors are writing law-review-article-minutae-Topic-X or chairing obscure-law-topic-Conference-Y.

    There will be no mention of reality - I guess the endowment will keep paying out, so who cares? If anything, the school will be bravely soldiering on through difficult times, doing nothing of any particular importance.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I think posting here is fun, but in the end, not very productive.

    If you really want meaningful change, WRITE TO CONGRESS. Law school loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy after a period of time, and/or schools should have to pay back tuition $$ for bad outcomes/admits above the median. Employment outcomes should be published, readily accessible, and complete. Loans should be underwritten/priced on the likelyhood of repayment. And emphasize that nothing would help tort reform as much as cutting down on the number of desperate,trying-to-pay-rent PI lawyers taking every nuisance case that walks through the door.

    Democrats will like the consumer advocacy aspects, Republicans the tort reform aspects. This should be a winner.

    Action is better than blogging - write to your senator of congressman!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The great myth of tort reform is that there are all these "frivolous lawsuits" out there. The quickest way to lose your shirt in the legal business is to file frivolous lawsuits.

      You know who likes frivolous lawsuits? Defense firms. They faux bitch to their clients and carriers about 'another frivolous suit from these trial lawyers, i can't wait until we get tort reform.' Then they say, "but in the meantime . . . and we estimate that you should reserve $150,000 and expect counsel fees in the neighborhood of $15 to $20k."

      Delete
    2. ^What he said.

      The system already has a way of dealing with frivolous civil suits.

      What the defense industry really means is "we don't like it when we get stuck with a $500k payout, so we want a cap on damages, no matter how severe or egregious our client's conduct."

      Personally, I don't punitive damages should be as recoverable as they are in personal injury, but I loathe the idea of the state intervening in the lawsuit process and telling a court that there are limits on how much one of the parties can win. That's simply not fair or democratic, and frankly it's against most of what the Republicans preach on the economic front. They don't want the state intervening to give Mama Lazy her welfare check, but they're fine with the state intervening to give Big Insurance Co. a trump card in tort litigation.

      It's frankly disgusting.

      Delete
    3. Tort reform is about keeping money that has been pledged by consumers to cover risk of loss in the hands of the insurance and financial service industry. Rates never go down after tort reform.

      Delete
    4. I would rather deal directly with the people who are thinking of going to law school this year or next year. I want them to understand the employment risks.

      Someone else can deal with Congress. Dropping the number of applicants is already front page news of one of the papers of record. So we are already having an effect.

      Delete
  34. Better still - Prof Campos, why not prepare a national petition online, collect signatures, and then forward to Coburn, Boxer, and Grassley, and to the appropriate people on the HOuse side??

    ReplyDelete
  35. The premise of the blog post seems to be that we should TRY to reverse this trend to raise interest in the law degree.

    But why would we want to? There are not enough jobs.

    If there are only about 15,000 to 20,000 jobs each year available to replace lawyers, then why would we want to raise interest in this degree?

    These graphs seems to point to an obvious market correct that is perfectly appropriate and should continue.

    We need to close about 2/3 of the law schools. It is really that simple.

    ReplyDelete
  36. "This year, approximately 1,750,000 people will earn college degrees. But we project no more than 55,000 law school applicants. The ratio for this year is 3%--just one-third what it was in 1991."

    Simply beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beautiful, perhaps, but meaningless.

      Delete
  37. Bets on the number of matriculants? That's the other shoe to drop here. I bet that a substantial number of applicants are striving to enroll at quality institutions or else angling for big money from middling institutions. Number of enrollees for 2012 - 2013 are 44,500.

    My bet for the number of matriculants this year: 38,000. That's the over/under. At 38,000, would you take the over or the under? Replies encouraged.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 38,000 would be nice, and it would be a serious hurtin' on the schools. But I have to take of the overs on that one. Too many naive college grads still buying in to environmental and international law programs, thinking they can easily get a public-interest position, and considering TTTT law school as a "strong regional school" for matriculation to be under 38,000.

      Delete
    2. I would take over. The ratio of enrollees/applicants can't be taken as a constant because previously there have been upper-bound limits. Schools couldn't take an infinite number of graduates, so we had no way of knowing the yield if they had space available.

      This year, there will be space available. My guess is that that space fills more than most of us would like, most likely in desperate attempts to keep institutions afloat 3 years from now. So I would put final yield at 45k or so, which is still 2x too many, but you get the idea.

      Delete
    3. I'll take the under. And I'll try to keep getting people to understand they have nothing to gain by going.

      Delete
    4. I think we will see right around 38,000 1Ls assuming current predictions of 54,000 applicants hold true. No way we see 45k.

      If you assume an 80% admission rate (fall of '11 was 71%) and an enrollment rate of 90% of those admitted (fall of '11 was 87%) you get ~ 38,800 1Ls. I think class of '14 is where the real beatings start though, as this year will only be 5-10% smaller than last.

      I think sweetened scholarships and waived fees etc help the schools get to a 90% enrollment rate, but I can't see the admission rate going much higher than 80%. Stats will just be crushed.

      As recent as the fall class of 2003, there was a 57% admission rate and now it's almost 80%. Hilarious.

      Love watching this unfold.

      Delete
    5. how hard do you think the law schools are working to get the LSAT requirement dropped in order to tap into a bigger pool of applicants? Or letting GMAT scores apply? Hell, let's accept SAT or PSAT scores for admission.

      Delete
    6. Northwestern accepts GMAT for some program.

      Delete
    7. Rutgers-Camden offered to accept GMAT scores in lieu of the LSAT in that email they sent to GMAT takers.

      Also, they're ranked 18th of the "best law schools for getting rich" and "are a direct student loan institution so financial aid is easily processed."

      http://abovethelaw.com/2012/05/law-school-sales-pitch-doubles-down-on-the-getting-rich-rationale-for-law-school/2/

      Delete
    8. I think you're going to be surprised how much bottom-feeding goes on. Students that used to be "this kid probably wouldn't pass the bar" will suddenly get in because schools HAVE to take the chance to have economic viability. I fully expect an admission percentage north of 95% when the dust settles.

      So this year, I expect this to still be able to find 40k+ warm bodies. You simply can't take the past rates as indicative of the future given the shifts in standards and need.

      Next year? It's going to get ugly. They're going to have to sweep every morsel off the floor this year, leaving no crumbs to pluck next year. That's why I expect multiple schools to announce closure plans starting Jan '14.

      Delete
  38. "The steady decline has reached the point where we'll struggle to fill first-year seats. With poor placement rates, increased transparency about job outcomes, and ongoing shifts in legal practice, it will be very difficult for law schools to reverse this twenty-year trend. If we hope to do so, we have to look candidly at the roots of our long-term slide. One of those roots surely is the price of legal education. Rising cost, falling demand. Simple market economics."

    If law schools have any decency, morals and sense of social justice, they will do absolutely nothing to reverse this slide. They are selling a product that is both overpriced and NOT NEEDED.

    ReplyDelete
  39. 0L applicants are getting smarter about tuition for law school. They are asking for more "scholarship" money and are asking for zero restrictions keeping it for 2nd and 3rd years.

    The level of information available to potential law students is now amazing.

    TLS is gradually turning into an open forum for how to screw over your law school financially. They are topics devoted to negotiating lower tuition via the various discount methods.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The object is to keep the law school from screwing you over. Remember even Duke's Dean said that almost no one was paying sticker, so why would anyone agree to sticker there?

      I think he said the average was $33,000 or so? I would never pay full price when all the other kids are getting a discount.

      Delete
    2. "[S]cholarship funding has doubled from $5 million to over $10 million in the last five years, and, as a result, the net average tuition at Duke Law, taking account of scholarship grants, has stayed fairly stable during that period at about $33,000 per year. "

      So now people know the maximum they should pay, and if they are paying more, Duke doesn't think they have a good shot at being successful students.

      Delete
  40. I look at those graphs and I see nothing but postive trends. That looks completely appropriate for the market that we are in.

    Law school applicants should be dropping overall. This is not something we should be trying to change.

    The tone of DJM is that we should be concerned about it and looking to change the direction.

    I see those graphs and I see nothing wrong. The trend is a positive development and should be encouraged to continue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a big problem with the graphs: The drops should be steeper, and there should be no bubbles.

      We've been at full lawyer saturation for at least fifteen years. No reason to produce more than replacement (like 10k or 15k) in the years since.

      Delete
  41. i love the charts, but they don't really lead to any actual conclusions. the share is meaningless as long as the volume allows law schools to continue to field class sizes that they strive for.

    the real pain is the absolute drop in number of applicants. once that goes below the total number of available seats, or leads schools to be forced to accept students with lower LSAT/GPA credentials, that's when the changes start.

    This is definitely already happening as DJM has already blogged about and will be fun to watch. But share of total grads is meaningless. Looking forward to the updated LSAC volume numbers tomorrow afternoon.

    ReplyDelete
  42. The market has zero impact, for you can't put a price on presTTTige!

    ReplyDelete
  43. What the SLS hears:

    "Now is a GREAT time to go to law school! Hardly anyone else is going! I'll be in the perfect position to make a mint when the lawyer shortage hits!"

    ReplyDelete
  44. Since the University of Phoenix has been mentioned, its time to trot out my UOP story. Between 2006 and 2010 I taught 28 online classes all of which were Crim pro, or crim law for what was their Criminal Justice program though they changed the department name three times during my time there. These classes were upper level and not introductory. (the students were supposedly competent learners by the time I taught them)

    I had about 10 students indicate to me they were interested in law school. (Out of about 350) and with the exception of one who could write competent report English, all the rest were unable to even compose a paragraph without mangling the English language.

    I did have bright students. I probably had about 10 who would have been able to survive an Ivy League education but ended up at the UOP because of life circumstances and coming from families with no money to send them to college as traditional students. But:

    NONE OF MY BRIGHT STUDENTS WANTED TO GO TO LAW SCHOOL IT WAS ONLY THE EDUCATIONALLY CHALLENGED WHO HAD NO IDEA HOW BAD THEIR ACADEMIC SKILLS WERE!

    [Rant Off]

    ReplyDelete
  45. There are many applicants who will only apply to to a T14 school. If they don't get in there, they won't attend any law school.

    There is enough information out there explaining that only Biglaw jobs of $120,000+ will justify the cost of law school. So why would someone even risk law school outside of T14 schools?

    The smart kids get this and are making their decisions appropriately.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. agreed. it will be impossible for law schools outside the T14 to approach a 100% matriculation rate among those accepted. There is an upper limit of say 90% for the non t14.

      That leaves the admission rate as the remaining lever to fill seats. But that has an upper limit too as law schools do not want to cripple their admissions stats and fall in the rankings by accepting 100% of applicants.

      So in the short term I see class sizes of non T14 schools decreasing around 10-20% per year. After 3-5 years of this, schools will begin consolidating or closing unless they manage to tap a new pool of applicants that brings applicants back into the 60-80k range. (PS this isn't going to happen).

      Delete
    2. This has been my strategy. Have been in legal industry in a support function for close to two years, but see myself changing settings after april/may if the money or acceptances aren't right.

      Delete
    3. That was me. I took the LSAT and didn't get a 170. Decided to stay in accounting/finance. Without this blog, I probably would have tried retaking or going to a lower ranked school.

      Delete
    4. Or drop out even at a T14 if you are below median.

      Delete
  46. I have a neighbor applying to PT school. There are 30-40 spots at many schools. Sounds like the right approach (of course, he is struggling to get into the PT school he wants). It's just -- the law school academy cannot see itself as anything other than critical to society

    ReplyDelete
  47. If you guys are fans of good comment threads, this one is enjoyable. MackK and Dybbyk continue to irritate the Bourgeoisie.

    http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2013/02/the-brilliant-future-of-americas-law-schools.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What an extraordinary article -- clueless and cynical at the same time. Another eminent law professor is torn to shreds by commenters (including DJM.)

      Delete
  48. It's very sad. The greed of the academic community is what made the JD degree value-LESS. Too many people were given JDs, many of whome should never have been admitted into law school.

    It's almost as bad as Europe now, where lawyers (as well as doctors, engineers and other professionals) are taking jobs as cab drivers because there are not enough jobs in their profession.

    I actually know of two lawyers in New York that work as cab drivers, AND still try to maintain a practice. The practice of law simply does not pay their bills anymore.

    Now, law professors are going to suffer in the same way many of their former students are suffering. And something tells me, the same advice they gave us will not give them much comfort.

    You know, the whole "should we measure the value of a degree simply by the amount of money you make" crap. Sorry, but this is good when it applies to others, but not so much when it applies to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, we should measure the value of degree based on the amount of money you are likely to earn with that degree.

      That should be a critical issue before the federal government approves the student loan amount that a student is eligible for.

      Why on earth are we giving student loans of $200,000+ to people studying for degrees where they have no realistic prospect of repaying even a fraction of that money?

      Delete
    2. @12:41 - "Almost as bad as Europe . . ." Please find me an example of a European country where people go into anything near the amount of debt US law students do with such poor outcomes.

      Delete
  49. Lately, I have been contemplating the extent to which professors realize that they are scamming students. I like to think most of them are ignorant to the dire situations of some of their grads, and the detrimental effect the current graduate levels have on everyone but those in academia. At least in part, this is because I want to believe that most of them are simply ignorant (albeit willfully ignorant at this point). But the more I read and hear, the less likely that scenario is.

    Here is an expert from a post at Faculty Lounge today:

    In the case of law schools, many of these cost drivers are entrenched not only by tradition, but by ABA regulatory guidelines. I imagine that behind the scenes, these days, there is much pressure on the ABA to take sides in this incipient institutional conflict. If individual schools cannot come together as a community, the market will force choices. If there is to be an alternative to a pure market resolution, as far as law schools are concerned, the ABA could conceivably facilitate matters. Whether it will be able to do so - politically or even legally - remains to be seen."

    I read this as basically saying, "If we (law schools) can't find a way to artificially keep tuition high and continue with the current attendance rates, regardless of graduate outcomes, then the market will correct itself."

    Am I way off the mark here?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's actually kind of interesting the extent to which the ABA can actually affect the resolution of the current law school problems. Many people have suggested that the ABA should simply deny accreditation to many schools, or limit the size of classes, or otherwise restrict the number of law school graduates. However, this could very well constitute an antitrust violation, at least as long as it was done as a means of restricting the number of lawyers in order to prop up the salaries they earn or the market for their services.

      The Justice Department has already come down on the ABA once for misusing its accreditation process for similar purposes:

      http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/Pre_96/June95/363.txt.html

      Delete
    2. Ha, that is a great read. Even in '95, the law faculty was trying to "artificially inflate" their own salaries. Another interesting piece: "About 90 percent of the ABA's Section of Legal Education members are law faculty." I assume that this is close to the current percentage as well. So I I would not depend on the ABA legal education section to spearhead the reform movement.

      But I would hope that the USDOJ would not come down on them if the ABA did try to deny accreditation to new schools on the basis of the glut of lawyers. But knowing the government, they probably would.

      Delete
    3. I read it as let's choose our own path before the market forces us in a direction we may not want to go.

      Delete
    4. Yes, but the market forces will be there regardless of what the ABA does or doesn't do. That's not to say that the full free-market force will be in effect, because as we have seen, federal dollars in the form of student loans have been propping these schools up for years. If the full free market force was behind this there wouldn't be the problem to begin with--or at least not on this scale.

      But the direction that law schools and faculty don't want to go is down. The only thing that the market will do is decrease revenue--fewer applicants/students (already happening) and tuition that is proportion to benefit (hopefully will happen). And if the current trends continue (and I hope they will), these are pretty much inevitable. The schools themselves will be left to make due with the leftover money.

      So I guess the question would be, if they don't want a "pure market resolution," what do they want? If we assume that a "pure market resolution" is a resolution whereby people go to law school for the primary purpose of capitalizing financially on their investment, and institutions (along with their stakeholders) lend them the money to do so expecting to be paid back with interest, what are the problems with this? Possibly less diversity/access, less legal "scholarship," professors teaching more classes, fewer law schools (or at least smaller ones). These are real concerns--don't get me wrong--but are these faculty members concentrating on these issues as the reason they don't want a "pure market" resolution? I am sorry but this requires me to assume altruism as their base (and subconscious) motivation, which I am no longer prepared to do. I all see when I read the above post is "blame the ABA, and let's all come together find some way to save our jobs." There is no ABA regulation against a single school voluntarily cutting their class size in half (or is there)?

      Delete
    5. The Justice Department was not addressing limiting the supply side of law school grads to a number where most would find employment. If no restriction on numbers of law school grads would be lawful, we got a problem. The Justice Deparment is mandating oversupply of lawyers on antitrust grounds.

      Delete
  50. ***Excerpt, not expert, sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  51. The solution to the law school oversupply problem will not be coming from the ABA. They are too spineless to act and they also lack the mandate to even perform this task.

    The market will take care of it. Continuing to expose the lack of jobs, and the low salaries for 90% of law grads, will be the nails in the coffin for law schools.

    The market correction is already underway. The trend is in place to lead to smaller number of law schools and smaller classes overall. Then law professor salaries are destined to also decline. If the budgets are shrinking 25% to 50%, there is simply no way to maintain the current law professor salary structure.

    ReplyDelete
  52. I don't think law professors intentionally want to scam students.

    I think they actually believe this crap about there being a need for more lawyers. Of course, it's convenient for them to think this way, so they don't question themselves much.

    Another question: why are academics so liberal? Why do they mostly vote Democrat? The (real) answer: government spending pads their pockets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I don't think law professors intentionally want to scam students."

      Of course not. People want to think well of themselves - which is why you are seeing all these ridiculous rationalizations for the value of law school from law professors - they are trying to convince themselves, as much as anyone else.

      Delete
    2. Not intentionally. But knowingly, which is almost as bad.

      Delete
    3. Professors have largely shown themselves to be indifferent to their students' welfare, to be clueless as to how much tuition was and to be disinterested in the plight of any member of the profession not of their " status."

      Professors have a moral and ethical obligation to their students. They have failed their students. They have failed to support their students. And, incredibly, they have completely failed to understand that the students are the reasons that they have a job. No practicing lawyer could treat his source of income with such disdain as law professors treat their students.

      Delete
  53. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LawProf: please moderate this junk.

      Delete
  54. The WaPo online has an editorial today on the law school mess. Doesn't say anything earthshaking or new, but hats off to LST, LawProf and DJM. In the course of two years, this issue has gone from relative obscurity to the editorial pages of the MSM.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Campos in Salon writing about student loans and endangering academic freedom.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/02/04/student_loans_the_next_housing_bubble/

    ReplyDelete
  56. "[Law school applicant] and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place." - Gordon Gecko

    ReplyDelete
  57. LawProf: I checked out your article at Salon and it is a concise and devastating critique of the student loan bubble. This should be required reading for all college students, law school applicants, and legislators. It provides a much needed libertarian-ish perspective to that website, where people seem to believe that there is no social issue that government intervention cannot solve.

    "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

    ReplyDelete
  58. Excellent analysis, DJM. As a side note, not too long ago, I checked out Cooley Law School's website. Scrolling down, near the bottom of the website is a commentary section, where the dean periodically posts opinion pieces with titles such as "Admission Chances Improve; Employment Outcomes Brighten,"Law School is Indeed Worth the Money, and my personal favorite, "Is More Transparency About Law Schools Desireable?" Of course, we all know the answer to that one - we wouldn't want the students too informed, now would we? That might result in a decline in applications...

    Not a self-serving article on there. But most importantly, I am glad for the good Dean's articles so they can counter all the reality you post here, DJM. As long as the Dean of Cooley says it ain't so, I can still hope that maybe in 5 years, I might get that legal job and that my current unemployment and exile from the legal field is only temporary...

    ReplyDelete
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  64. Reminds me of the term "price elasticity" which means as the price of a product goes down the demand increases (or vice versa). There are limits though, consider an airline selling non-refundable tickets from Ft. Lauderdale to Fargo, North Dakota, in the winter. If the airline lowers it's prices it might get a few more customers, but how many people want to go to Fargo in the winter? The airline can lower the price to zero and still not fill the seats. Finally the airline can start PAYING people to go to Fargo (perhaps by offering them jobs as gate agents in Fargo after they get there) and still not be able to fill their seats.
    This is precisely where the law schools are right now.

    ReplyDelete
  65. could some of the ratio decline be explained by the significant influx of students into colleges who before would never have gotten into college and really don't consider graduate education....and maybe public attitudes toward the legal profession have gotten worse over the past generation? outrageous pricing surely significant factor as you suggest.

    ReplyDelete
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