The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 4/17/15, there are 315,777 fall 2015 applications submitted by 47,172 applicants. Applicants are down 2.6% and applications are down 4.7% from 2014. Last year at this time, we had 89% of the preliminary final applicant count." If this year's applicants follow last year's pattern, there will be approximately 52,968 applicants this year. The last post in this series is here.
What does this mean for law schools? It looks like the precipitous, year-over-year declines in applicants are over and we're reaching some stability, though I wouldn't expect an increase in applicants next year (fall 2016). I'm thinking that we're going to chug along with somewhere in the neighborhood of 36,000 first years next year. There's still a lot on the table in terms of what the curriculum will look like going forward and the cost of attending law school.
Now that the applicants seem to be stabilizing I'm guessing that the story for law schools for the next few years will how they adjust to smaller revenue. I'm thinking the very limited hiring that we've seen this year will continue into next year. I'm also thinking that faculty size will shrink through retirements and perhaps some more buyouts. For those schools lucky enough to be able to hire, my guess is that their needs will be focused in areas of greatest curricular need, which I would expect will be business law and experiential learning largely.
Way back in spring 2009 I predicted that teaching loads would rise and that publication requirements would fall. The first was correct; the second, given the wild over-supply of people who want to get into the academy may turn out to be wrong. That is, in times of decline, the productivity we expect of workers may increase across the board -- from teaching to service to scholarship.