Posted Jan 31, 2013 12:27 pm CST
A plunge in the number of applicants to law schools will likely lead to closures and faculty layoffs, according to law professors following the statistics.
Based on current trends, the number of law school applicants for the 2013 school year is expected to number between 53,000 and 54,000, a 30-year low. In 2004, for example, 100,000 people applied to law schools, the New York Times reports. “Responding to the new environment,” the Times says, “schools are planning cutbacks and accepting students they would not have admitted before.”
Experts attribute the drop in interest to higher tuition costs and a decline in high-paying law firm jobs. University of Southern California law and economics professor Gillian Hadfield told the Times there is “a significant mismatch between demand and supply.” According to Hadfield, the problem is not an overproduction of lawyers. “Actually, we have an exploding demand for both ordinary folk lawyers and big corporate ones,” she said. But general practitioners dealing with matters like mortgages and divorce have a hard time making a living, she said. Big companies, on the other hand, aren’t satisfied with law schools’ emphasis on academics at the expense of practical training, she said.
Change is afoot, according to other law professors interviewed by the newspaper. University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter expects up to 10 law schools will close in the next 10 years, and half to three-quarters will cut faculty, staff and class sizes.
Indiana University law professor William Henderson said the changes could occur as early as this fall. “In the ’80s and ’90s, a liberal arts graduate who didn’t know what to do went to law school,” Henderson told the Times. “Now you get $120,000 in debt and a default plan of last resort whose value is just too speculative. Students are voting with their feet. There are going to be massive layoffs in law schools this fall. We won’t have the bodies we need to meet the payroll.”
ABAJournal.com: “Law school grapples with student surplus after switch to 3L practical skills training”