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March 11, 2014


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I'm going with 50,000 total applicants and 32,000 total matrics.

Basis for this forecast:

- Last data was 2/28, and a lot of schools have 3/1 official deadlines. (I know that many are soft deadlines, but still). I suspect that the uptick reflects applicants submitting right before 3/1 deadlines.

- Note that at this time last year we had 84 percent of total application count.

- The low hanging fruit was picked last year. I find it hard to believe that more than another 7,000 to 8,000 students will apply between now and August 1, and I really can't see another 11,000 doing so.

- Students just got their February LSAT scores. We should get the official totals in the next week. Assuming only 17,000 to 19,000 took the test, I can't see more than half applying for entry this term, and I suspect that a lot of those takers are re-takes.

- The U.S. News data really shakes things up and the 9 month employment figures come out soon. I think a lot of 0Ls are being more careful about debt.

- Admission rates to some law school are going to approach 85 percent. If law school is open admission, the status and prestige goes away. Fewer people want to join a club with open membership.


I've asked this question before, in various ways.
Assume 200 ABA accredited law schools, with an average first year class size of 200. That means that 40,000 enrollments would fill all the seats.
Now, assume that the highest rated 100 schools fill an average of 250 first year seats. That would remove 25,000 from 40,000, leaving 15,000 for the remaining 100 schools, or, an average of 150 seats per school.
Now, assume 30,000 enrollees and the same number of first year seats filled for the highest rated 100 schools.
Would only 5,000 remain for the 100 lower rated schools?



That's the unspoken calculus that every admission's office ranked below Number 12 is doing right now. It's why Iowa and Case Western are small. It's why American is big, and falling.

You will see the T-12 schools reduce their numbers by a small amount. You will see G-Town reduce its numbers by a larger amount. I really wonder what a school like Washington & Lee does.

Schools ranked below 100 will just take what comes.


I guess the question is: If the highest rated schools can skim the pool and fill all seats with no hit to the profile of the pool of enrollees, why not do it? Why take a revenue loss when such loss is unnecessary?
That means that Harvard, for example, may fill 600 or more seats, with top notch enrollees. And so forth.
That may leave the lowest rated schools competing for a pool of applicants so poorly credentialed, and with such low predictors of success in law school and on the bar exam (leaving aside prospects for legal employment), that it would be potentially in violation of fed lending requirements to enroll these applicants.
In addition, looking down the road a few years, if schools basically open the doors to all applicants, then those schools may suffer reputation costs of enormous proportions.
We all know, one supposes, how poorly many law students write. And, even many well-qualified and brilliant law students find the ability to engage in legal reasoning challenging.
One shudders to think how much worse these conditions can become by admitting at fifty or more of the ABA accredited law schools persons whose GPA and LSAT scores predict little likelihood of success in law school, on the bar, and in legal employment.
In a very real sense, law schools owe a duty to the persons admitted (who will be encouraged to take on enormous debt), to the taxpayers footing those bills, and to the public at large, already poorly served because of the failure of law schools to respond to changing needs for legal services.
Some actions need to be considered before the decision about continuing for many law schools in no longer in their own hands.


I tend to think that next year's 1Ls will number in the mid to low 30,000s. I do think that one reason that application percentages are rising is that students have much better information than they did year ago as to admission standards. Transparency is good. A lot of non T-14 schools are going to have to reduce enrollment. Far better to plan for it.

retiel nairb

To some degree I think the top schools do have a non-financial interest in maintaining their current share of total student enrollment and thus lowering their enrollment as total enrollment declines. Law school pedigree is a relational good. Churning out Harvard, Yale, Stanford grads is worth more if they make up less of the total pie.

And if you want to turn this into a financial interest because you're that sort, this sort of pedigree/prestige concern is often on the minds of potential donors.


Interesting thoughts. One preliminary note: Yale has a relatively small class.
As for prestige, the selectivity at the top tier need not change that much.
The problem becomes acute in the lower tiers when the top tier has absorbed so many of the qualified applicants that, in this game of musical chairs, the remaining schools find themselves with no seats.
What then?
Reducing admissions at top tier schools won't solve it. First, the drop off is most acute with respect to the better qualified candidates. Second, a person qualified to enter HSY who is not admitted to a top tier law school will not be attending an unranked law school.


" I do think that one reason that application percentages are rising is that students have much better information than they did year ago as to admission standards"

I will bite; how did new applicants get better information than last year?

If anything, applicants do not even seem to be able to put together (1) debt, (2) loan payment + (3)income, to see what is clear in front of the eyes.


Vijay -- I meant that over the course of several years, information has improved. As to who is now going to law school, I would be interested to see what average debt figures look like. My guess is that other than the T14, more and more it is kids whose families don't mind paying (yes there are some of those) or kids getting substantial tuition reductions (or grants, whatever you want to call it). And I do think that kids are more attuned to grant situation.

On a separate note, as to February LSAT takes showing a slight increase over last year, I would attribute some of that to some test centers being closed in December for weather reasons.

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