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January 13, 2014


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Former Law Review Editor

I think it's outstanding that data source for this concerned decline in enrollment is an article entitled, "Is that Burgeoning Law School Enrollment Ending?" In a decade's time, law school enrollment doubled in the 70s??!!! You then had 40 years of output at the 38k+ level. No wonder there is such a glut now!

BLS is projecting circa 20,000 jobs per year for lawyers now through the early 2020s. Law school enrollment equilibrium should be somewhere in the 28,000 per year range. We've got a long way to go.

I'm putting the over/under on the this fall's class at 36,000.

Brian Tamanaha

From 1975 to the present, an additional 47 law schools have been approved by the ABA (including provisional):


Has someone done a study to add all the seats in the T100, and then subtract that number from the total number?
If my math is correct, and there are 200 ABA approved law schools, then the average incoming class was 198?
We know, however, that schools like Harvard admitted far more than that average (564!).
So, after the T100 took its pick, how many of the 39,675 were left to fill the remaining seats for the "second" 100 law schools?
This analysis would be interesting if broken down further, not only by total numbers, but also by other factors.
If this has been done, forgive me for not locating it.



It is a little weird. I thought that the high ranked schools were big - at least Harvard and Georgetown, but it turned out that Cooley was enormous and a few of the very low ranked schools.

So generally, the higher ranked schools are larger, but a few are small, and generally the lower ranked are small, but a few are HUGE.

Student loans have become something the posh and the plebeian have both chosen to exploit....

Alfred L. Brophy


Here's a link to the ABA's list of first year and total JD enrollment from 1963 to 2012:

Pretty dramatic changes over time. I'm wondering what accounts for the growth from the early 1960s through the mid 1970s?

Steven Freedman

The incredibly shrinking app pool is bad news for law schools, but really good news for law applicants. According to the most recent ABA data, apps will be down another 15% for this year. If that holds up, there will be 50,490 applicants applying to law school this cycle. What will this do to the size of the incoming class? First you must estimate the percentage of the app pool who will end up as 1Ls. The highest ever percentage of applicants matriculating was 67%, set last year. Let's predict that law schools will be even less discerning this year and that number rises to 70%. Using 70%, a fair estimate for the 2014 entering class is 35,343, down about 4-5,000 from last year. From this entering class of 35,343, we can expect about 90% to graduate three years later, leaving a projected 2017 graduating class of 31,809.

Ok, I know folks like to quote BLS numbers, but so far it looks like the BLS numbers are not working to show the picture of what's happening to recent law school grads. NALP numbers seem to be doing a much better job and show that 20,000 per year is way too low. Using just the categories for JD required, full-time, long-term and JD Advantage, full-time, long-term, NALP reported 2011 law school graduates finding 27,000 jobs and 2012 law school graduates finding 30,000 jobs. These were probably the two worst years for legal employment in modern times, yet about 30,000 law students still managed to find appropriate employment. That's much greater than the 20,000 number some commenters frequently cite.

So what's this mean? In 2017, we are slated to have 31,809 graduates. Even if legal employment stays flat at 30,000 FTLT positions, there will be something pretty close to equilibrium in the job market. I'm sure this will disappoint the critics, but it should make the 2017 graduates very happy.


"Even if legal employment stays flat at 30,000 FTLT positions, there will be something pretty close to equilibrium in the job market. I'm sure this will disappoint the critics, but it should make the 2017 graduates very happy."

Interesting observation. Of course, another interesting question is how many of those 30,000 jobs will pay enough to be able to service $100,000+ in law school debt.


"BLS is projecting circa 20,000 jobs per year for lawyers now through the early 2020s."
"Even if legal employment stays flat at 30,000 FTLT positions,"
Which is correct?


30,000 law students is a big drop from current levels. A lot of law schools would have to close or law schools would have to cut class size which would necessitate cost cuts. Its also not clear "JD Advantage" should be included here. The best analysis I've seen of JD Advantage, by Deborah Jones Merritt, an eminent academic at Ohio State's law school, found these jobs are clearly inferior to jobs that require bar passage. Moreover, there are many jobs where a JD could be an advantage that no one would go to law school to get, jobs such as paralegal or legal secretary. We have no way of knowing whether most people with JD advantage jobs have positions like paralegal, legal secretary or other jobs no rational person would get a law degree to obtain.

Judgement Day is Coming

The size of the class of 2018 is going to be critical. A rebound for the class of 2018 would suggest that as the size of law school classes approach demand in the market enrollment will begin to stabilize. That is the academy would be right about law school enrollment stabilizing in the near future.

However, if the class of 2018 isn't larger than the class of 2017 this would suggest people are not willing to borrow 250k for even 100% chance of landing a 50k job. If this happens then we can expect to see many more years of declining enrollment.


A lot of the soaring graduate enrolment during this period was due to the drafts and the Vietnam war - so that between 1965 and 1975 the enrollment rate of college-age men in the United States rose and then fell abruptly. Although eligible, few men between the ages of 26 and 35 were ever drafted. So if you could maintain a college/graduate school deferment until your 26th birthday you were safe - if you finished degree before reaching age 25 could apply for a graduate deferment in the early and middle years of the war (up to 1968), for an occupational or dependent deferments from 1965 to 1970.

There was another difference in 1974 - relatively few workers were educated to a Bachelors degree or graduate school level and there were relatively few MBAs. Only abut 12% of the population over 25 had a college degree, as opposed to close to 30% today, while as anyone can tell you, the cost of attendance at law school was very small. The result was that law graduates of 1974 were coming out into a considerably less competitive labor market, where they had an unusually higher level of education than most workers - even for non-law jobs they could compete, whereas today, a JD has become somewhat of a "mark of Cain" for law graduates.

There is a third factor also worth considering - although there was a large run-up in JDs between 1964 and 1974, the prior two decades had seen relatively few lawyers entering the profession. By contrast, in 2014, we are coming off three to four decades in which the JD graduation rate has been very very high. A 1974 graduate of law school is now in their early to mid 60s, perhaps thinking of retirement - but not retired. So there are 4 decades worth of high law school output practitioners still practicing, which severely inhibits job opportunities for current JDs.

In other words 38,000 law graduates in 2014 is not the same as 38,000 in 1974 - the new graduates are in substantial debt, seeking to enter a saturated profession, in a market where the JD credential is not particularly valuable outside the law, in a society where many more people have their level of educational attainment, often in ways more relevant to non-legal employers.


About 64-68 law schools were set up after 1974 - some 50 or so were ABA accredited - about 30 were set up between 1964 and 1974 - some 22-25 were ABA accredited.


Prof. Brophy, you'll note that the jump in enrollment didn't occurred until the late 1960s. Part of this, as MacK pointed out, was the decision by many newly minted college grads that law school was a better career option than being an infantryman in Vietnam. At least as important was the surge of baby boomers. The earliest ones were born in 1946 and would start graduating in large numbers in 1968-69

Alfred L. Brophy

PaulB--thanks for this. The link I had to the ABA shows that there were just under 21,000 ILs in 1963, so there was an increase of nearly 20% from 1963 to 1966 (maybe it's just noise given the relatively small N). Seems like something was going on even before the baby boomers hit law school age. The draft for Vietnam makes sense as an explanation. I'd like to know a little more about the flow of young men into law school in the early 1960s as an alternative to Vietnam. And I'm also curious why -- if that's the primary cause -- the numbers of first years continues to increase even after 1973.


Prof. Brophy, I don't have numbers in front of me but I'd guess that the increase of the 1970s (the student draft deferment ended in 1969) may reflect the arrival of women in significant numbers. Hilary Clinton, Wellesley Class of 1969, was at the very beginning of more than token numbers of women in professional graduate programs. When my now wife was at a well known MBA program in the late 1970s, the women's room on the ground floor still had urinals.

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