The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 6/5/15, there are 327,793 fall 2015 applications submitted by 50,269 applicants. Applicants are down 2.5% and applications are down 4.6% from 2014. Last year at this time, we had 95% of the preliminary final applicant count." If this year's applicants follow last year's pattern, there will be approximately 52,915 applicants this year. The last post in this series is here.
As I've said before, I think we're about at the bottom of applicants and enrollment now. This is a little above where I thought we'd be when we hit bottom. I had thought that the low in enrollment would be about 35,000 first years -- and it looks like we'll be 1000 or so above that this fall. Next year applicants may be down slightly, about the same, or up slightly. It's too early to tell now. We'll know a lot more after we get data on the number of administrations of yesterday's LSAT.
Declining numbers of applicants (and therefore three years hence number of entry-level lawyers) is good news for those who'll be looking for jobs in 2018. There will be less competition.
For me one of the continuing questions is what does this decline in applicants mean for the fortunes of law schools. How will they adjust to the substantially smaller classes? And I've got to think that the decline in revenue will be greater than just the smaller number of students would suggest, because those attending will have more leverage in negotiating for financial aid. Schools are proving remarkably resilient, but perhaps we'll see some more closures (or mergers). (Though as close readers may recall, I think schools have a ways to go before they have to close.) Faculty salaries I should imagine will shrink. The easiest to cut are summer research grants, which I intuit are already on the way out at many schools. But I should also imagine that salaries are going to decline, too.
I think deans who are pleading the case of their schools to central administrations will use what appears to be a stabilization of applications as a sign that things aren't going to get a ton worse. They may not be improving any time in the near future, but if I were a dean involved in tough conversations about the future with my central administration I'd be arguing that applicants are stabilizing and that things are unlikely to get worse. That may not be good enough for some central administrations. My guess is that we're not going to see more than a dozen or so law schools close and that all of those will be in the "rank not published" tier of U.S. News.