In the past day or two, we've seen a spate of articles and posts highlighting the newest LSAC application data and announcing that law schools are poised for a big drop in applications this year. It's true that there is new LSAC application data, it's true that as a whole it shows a big drop in applications this year as compared to last year, and it's true that law schools will probably net a much smaller application pool.
But if news is to be faithful to its name - that is, if news is supposed to be new - these stories are a little late. We've seen a lot of coverage about the drop in applications over the past month and a half. And it turns out that, if you look at the fresh LSAC data, over the past few weeks there has actually been a comparative uptick in applications.
As of 1/18/13, total applicants were down 20.1% and applications were down 22.3%.
As of 1/4/13, total applicants were down 22.1% and applications were down 23.8%.
As of 12/7/12, total applicants were down 22.4% and applications were down 24.6%.
This fall's entering class of law students will inevitably be both smaller and statistically weaker than last fall's class. There is an earthquake going on in legal education. But the most recent data from LSAC didn't break any fresh ground; the only thing new was that the decline is slightly less pronounced now than a was a month and a half ago.
While this year's drop is dramatic, I'm surprised at how few people have been talking about the longer term story of law school applications: with the exception of two years (2009 and 2010), the number of law school applicants has dropped every year since a high of 100,600 in 2004. This chart tells that story graphically. If you take a look here, you discover that the big pool in 2004 was the cap to a dramatic 33% spike in applicants: only four years earlier, in 2000, there were a total 74,600 applicants - roughly halfway between the 2011 and 2012 applicant pools.