Law schools have dropped student admissions to levels not seen since the 1970s. Multiple accredited schools have been sanctioned for poor admissions policies and procedures. In California, the bar exam pass-rate has reached an all-time low. These are all factors that students entering law school have to confront, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some positive things associated with the changing legal landscape.
The Changing Face of Law School Admissions
“Since 2010, US law schools have experienced a drop in student admissions to a level not seen since 1973, when there were 53 fewer schools than today (204),” Jane Croft reports. “The number of first-year students entering law school in 2015 dropped to just above 37,000 compared to 52,000 in 2010, according to figures released by the American Bar Association.”
The question many are asking is, why? After all, it’s not like the earning potential for lawyers has gone down. Earning six figures straight out of law school is still very much a possibility. There are a few different possibilities.
The first possibility is that admissions numbers are down because the job market isn’t as strong as it once was. The idea is that students don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education, only to be without a job upon graduation. The good news, however, is that the job market appears to be on the mend. This would indicate that admissions numbers could soon improve.
A second possibility is that many major law firms have closed and that there are more virtual, solo, and small practices – which obviously require fewer attorneys. Thus, there simply aren’t as many opportunities for recent graduates.
The third possible cause is the fact that law school accreditors are actually making it more difficult to get in. Just recently, the American Bar Association, which oversees more than 200 accredited law schools in the United States, announced their plan to implement a rule that would require 75 percent of a law school’s graduates sitting for a bar exam to pass it within 24 months. This could lead to some tightening by schools that sit on the borderline.
While there’s no certain answer as to how law school admissions can return to elevated rates, experts in the industry are floating around a number of possible solutions.
Better LSAT Preparation
One possible answer is better LSAT preparation. Students need to take ownership of their education and invest more time into studying. The good news is that LSAT preparation is more convenient than ever. There are plenty of options, including online and offline courses, but it’s up to students to take the initiative.
Clearer Instructions From Schools
Law schools certainly shoulder some of the blame in this situation. They need to set clearer instructions regarding admissions, curriculum, LSAT pass rates, and career placement opportunities. While law school is a business, it’s also part of the education system and necessitates more transparency.
Tuition and Student Loan Reform
The final suggestion is tuition and student loan reform. As Croft notes, the average cost of receiving a JD degree is $36,600 per year in tuition fees. Elite law schools charge as much as $60,000 per year. By the time students graduate, they’re saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Many students are seeing these costs and deciding not to attend law school. If schools want higher admissions, they’d do well to embark upon tuition and student loan reform.
The Future is Much Brighter
While test score requirements are going up and admissions seem to have dipped down, the future is still bright. The average pay for lawyers – even those who’ve just graduated – is far higher than the average for college graduates in other fields.
On top of that, the national economy is improving. It’ll take some time, but law school is still a promising investment.