Law-school applications are at their lowest in a decade, but that hasn't stopped a handful of colleges and universities across the nation from opening new law schools.
Some of the new schools are intended for regions where law schools are scarce or are being built to round out a university's suite of professional schools. But many of them are likely to find themselves competing for a shrinking pool of would-be lawyers and sending hopeful graduates into one of the toughest markets in years for law jobs.
Indiana Tech's new law school in Fort Wayne will be the state's fifth when it opens this fall.
The numbers don't favor these new schools. Last year the pool of law-school applicants shrank to about 68,000, down about 13% from 2011 and more than 30% from the past decade's peak of about 100,000 in 2004, according to the Law School Admission Council, a nonprofit group that administers the Law School Admission Test and compiles admissions data.
The coming school year looks even grimmer. As of last Friday, only 30,000 people had applied for entrance. That's a 20% drop from a year earlier and the lowest number in the past decade to have submitted applications as of mid-January.
The expansion comes at a crossroads for legal education. Law schools are turning out more graduates than ever—and charging higher tuition—even as law jobs have become increasingly hard to come by. Many law firms laid off lawyers during the economic downturn, when demand for legal services cratered, and competition for what jobs are left remains fierce.
Members of the law-school class of 2011 had little better than a 50-50 shot at landing a job as a lawyer within nine months of receiving their degree, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis last year. At the same time, some law graduates are saddled with as much as $150,000 in student-loan debt, in part because tuition is rising faster than the rate of inflation.
The piece continues:
There's been a resurgence this century, with 19 new schools getting ABA's stamp of approval since 2000, and more on deck. New schools are popping up in states with rising populations like Florida, California and Texas, said Barry Currier, a former law-school professor who is the ABA's interim consultant on legal education.
Existing schools are under pressure to cut costs and boost enrollment. In 2012 the number of first-year students entering law school fell 8.6% from 2011, according to the ABA.
"The notion that we need to open more law schools is absolutely crazy," said Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado who contributes to a blog called "Inside the Law School Scam." The current law-school model is unsustainable, given that "there are at least two graduates for every available legal job," he said, adding that educators launching new schools are "blind to the economic realities."
Prof. Campus is being mighty generous in those employment numbers. People thinking about law school should look at the IU Law job board and see how many attorney positions are being advertised. Typically it is maybe five or six. Then look at the hundreds of graduates law schools are turning out every year. Unless you have some strong connections or a niche of some sort, the odds are that as a graduate you won't find much in the way of employment upon graduating from law school.
I remember myself and another attorney meeting with an Indiana Lawyer writer maybe nearly a decade ago to talk about the saturation of the legal job market. We talked to her about all our friends who had graduated from law school with huge amounts of student loan and who were unemployed or working in menial jobs outside the profession. We talked about how the law schools were intentionally understating employment statistics and grossly overstating salaries. You could tell the writer thought we were nuts. Everyone knows that lawyers are all out there making six figures and there are tons of jobs. In particular, she suggested family law, the staple of many general practitioners struggling to keep their head above water, paid really well. Clearly she did not have any clue what the legal job market was like yet she wrote for the leading state legal publication.
The tide has turned since that meeting some ten years ago. Shortly after that meeting, the Wall Street Journal published an expose discussing the legal profession and struggles many were have to find a job. Following that the flood gates open with numerous articles being published on the subject. Lawsuits have been filed over, allegedly, falsified employment data used by law schools to entice students to law schools. Applications to law schools have declined. The word is getting out.
Law schools have reacted to the decreased applications by simply lowering the academic bar, taking students with poorer grades and lower LSATs. They also increased tuition prices. It is all an effort to keep the income flowing to the law schools, to continue fleecing young men and women, ensuring them a lifetime of nonchargeable student loan debt.