Law Schools

Law schools in Rust Belt are in a 'survival of the fittest' mode, law prof asserts

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Law schools in Rust Belt states are battling for students amid a declining applicant base and losses in traditional legal employment opportunities, according to a paper released this month by a law professor.

In a paper at SSRN, Cleveland-Marshall emeritus law professor David Barnhizer concludes that law schools in the Great Lakes and Midwest region are in a “survival of the fittest” mode. Less highly regarded law schools won’t be able to attract significant numbers of well-qualified students, and several “are likely to simply wither away,” he says. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog summarizes Barnhizer’s conclusions.

Many law schools in the region are trying to survive by admitting larger numbers of lesser qualified applicants, theorizing they need to hold on until conditions return to normal. But the new normal consists of “shrinkage, adaptation and inter-law school competition that is likely to become even more challenging over the next five to 10 years,” Barnhizer writes.

Barnhizer cites six “critical factors” affecting law schools. They are:

1) The Great Lakes and Midwest region is economically depressed. Any partial recovery “will fall short of recreating the base of manufacturing activity that produced a strong upwardly mobile middle class of the kind that sustains high-level educational activity.”

2) Populations in the region are static, aging or declining, which creates a smaller applicant pool. Ohio, for example, has a rapidly aging population and a decline in its younger population. Michigan has also seen a decline in its younger population.

3) The job market for lawyers in the region is saturated.

4) Government jobs for lawyers are affected by financially stressed local and state governments.

5) Top law jobs in the region will go to graduates of top law schools.

6) Law schools will offer increased financial aid to lure students, creating a financial “death spiral.”

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