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March 02, 2016


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Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King

With all due respect to the Prawfs and deans here, the appropriate number of applicants should be 0. Until every currently barred attorney has secured long term, middle class sustaining work or income that wants it, nobody should be attending law school. The numbers and work just do not add up.


Cptn Carswell,

I disagree that no one should go. We need about 20,000 matrics per year, but no more. Frankly, if the ABA held the line on quality, we'd be there.

I find it interesting that the apps are flattening out. I suspect we'll be down about 5 percent from last year when all is said and done because I do not see the continuation of late applications that we've seen for the last four years.


IF the applicant number is down, then I would say that someone should go back and aggregate the proclamations about a significant increase this year, and the end of the decline.

Those who made these boastful predictions, in the main, seemed to have been the same ones who usually rely on a certain strain of voodoo "economics" peddled by JDs posing as economists.

Remember all the tripe about economic cycles (when the economy is down, apps go up, when the economy is up, apps go down, when the economy is up, apps go up, etc.)? It was all so clearly demonstrated in the data!

Remember all the tripe about late applications can continue, can't continue, won't continue, must continue?

And last, but not least, let's not forget that we are getting closer and closer to the BEST TIME IN HISTORY TO GRADUATE FROM LAW SCHOOL!!! Jobs will go unfilled!!! Grads will have their pick of plum employment! It's right around the corner!


Let's look back: to April 2014:

"#1 - Intro - Enroll Today!

Why 2017-2018 Will Be a Fantastic Time to Graduate from Law School

... I want prospective law students to know that this time I mean it. Enroll today or you will miss out on what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Namely, the chance to graduate from law school in 2017-2018, which will likely be one of the best times ever to graduate from law school."

Paul Campos

We now have pretty strong evidence of stabilized market. This will be the third straight year with about 55,000 applicants, which will yield around 42-43K admitted students, and about 37K-38K matrics.

For the handful of people who follow this stuff closely, note that LSAC changed its reporting criteria last fall to count everyone who applies during a cycle, not just people who apply for fall admission. This change boosts reported applicant totals by about 2%, so going forward the three-year volume summary isn't directly comparable to the previously reported summaries.

This stabilization isn't consistent across all schools of course, as some are continuing to see significant declines in applicant totals. But on a national level things have clearly flattened out, and will probably stay that way for awhile, unless there are major changes to GRADPLUS and/or PAYE/PSLF.


@ Paul Campos,

I think you are probably right that applicant numbers have stabilized, but there may be other changes going on that will impact law school revenues significantly. Notably, I think there continues to be a huge increase in the amount of negotiating over tuition discounts (I can't call them "scholarships" with a straight face). I believe prospective students are far more willing to go lower ranked schools for heavy discounts rather than semi-elite and even truly elite law schools at or near the sticker price. I think each year this group of 55,000 becomes an even more hardened, cynical group prior to enrollment (some may call this "maturity"). I believe you wrote about this as on ISTLSS the "adversarial system," by which students gradually learn that professors and administrators are not really there to help them, but to take from their future.

The legal profession is still a lucrative field, and a good option for thousands of grads each year. It has definitely worked out well for me (2009 grad, no debt, married, child, homeowner), and I would do it all over again. The only thing I would do differently is, like most applicants now, plan to take the LSAT up to 3 times and negotiate for a full scholarship from a T50ish school.


I agree with Paul and JM. This is the new normal, and it appears stable.

I credit the results we see to the transparency movement, which is unquestionably good for students (and for the legitimate law schools alike). It may mean less revenue in the law school pot and more competition for applicants among schools, but you have students who know what they're getting into.

I do not think the majority of law schools were "scamming" students in the before times, but a significant minority of schools certainly were.

At 20 to 25,000 new lawyers per year, you actually will have a stable profession with satisfied practitioners. That helps them, and helps clients. Neither the bar nor society benefits from a law school model that was a sucker's game for 25 to 40 percent of all students.


Good comments here. The issue hasn't been "do we need new lawyers, ever" or even "do some lawyers obtain good results, in some universe," but "how can the ABA and the academy continue to look in the mirror while these long-standing policies and practices cause significant financial harm to thousands upon thousands of students, year after year after year?"

Rhetorical questions, of course. The code-of-silence, along with actions and proclamations that were clearly self-serving, explain the whole story. In any event, the invisible hand of the market works, even in the hallowed halls of academia - it just took a long time to manifest due to the significant socio-political buffer in place.


So, Paul, it is a cyclical phenomenon after all?


Anon 7:19PM, not the Paul you're directing that question to but there's no reason to believe that the countercyclical phenomenon of more applications during recessions and fewer during booms shouldn't continue. However, it's reasonable to believe that the secular decline of the last five years has been played out and that absent changes to government treatment of student loans, the application numbers should bounce around where they currently are at.


Law schools came out of this better and stronger than before. There is much more transparency, recognition that employment outcomes matters, considerably more emphasis on practice (including by professors), and the recognition that law school is intended to train students to be lawyers and secure them jobs. The last few years were hard but things have stabilized and hopefully all of the positive reforms stick.


The problem, Anon, is that many if not most schools are stuck with an unsustainable business model; something has to give, and I suspect in more and more cases it will be the faculty.


Don't you just love how the reactionaries now take credit for all the reforms that they so vociferously claimed were unnecessary, berating anyone who dared even to suggest a need, and the very reforms they now tout so proudly? (Now they've taken to a new strategy: declare mission accomplished on all of these reforms, despite the clear absence of meaningful progress on most of these items).

And, the jargon! Just love the "secular" claim. Not even close to an appropriate use of the term "secular" in this context, combined with a serious misstatement about a "countercyclical phenomenon of more applications during recessions and fewer during booms."

As shown in a prior thread, the latter claim is completely unfounded, but this unadulterated bs is peddled over and over in these forums as if it were the truth.


Twbb, there are many faculty who do not fit the mold you have in mind. While you may say they are the exception, those faculty are focusing on job outcomes, increasing transparency, and learning the practice of law. Something may have to give, but I don't think one can paint with such a broad brush.


Anon, I am not talking about virtue or lack thereof; I'm simply pointing out a harsh economic fact. The massive buildup in faculty over the past 20 years combined with the recent drops in enrollment plus the tendency for law schools to give tenure early and generously has resulted in payrolls that are not sustainable in even the short term. It doesn't seem like there is any other option other than either across-the-board salary cuts or the invocation of financial exigency and the termination of tenured faculty members. In many cases this will likely hit faculty unfairly who have truly tried to improve the lots of their students, but I can't see any other option.


I'm not sure what you think is unsustainable about the business model other than the headcount. I think the strength of the surrounding economy together with the near term over hang of supply is weighing on application numbers. That is putting short term pressure on schools, who have reduced head count in response but likely will have to do more to ride it out.



I'd differ with you on how unsustainable the business model is at most schools - you have to consider student loans and their availability, and the the "siren songs" of IBR and PSLF as part of that model, in fact a key part. But as long as the loans continue to flow and schools can tout IBR and PSLF - the model can keep going for the most part, with some trimming.

Of course the model is totally dependent on the lending - and curtailment, any real underwriting and it implodes.


Lending is indeed the key. Without it, enrollments would decline even more dramatically.

Moreover, the top tier is safe: they depend on the 1% or so for their student base (not any smarter applicants, obviously, just better schooled and connected, which of course, for these elitists, is exactly the mirror of their own lives they find valuable, so, no problem, so long as a few crumbs are thrown out to assuage their guilt and plenty of lip service is paid to the "correct" way of thinking about hot button issues).


MacK, I agree with that up to a point: the funny thing is we've reached the point that tuition is so high that even though the government fronts it at first and despite PSLF, IBR, etc. etc., a lot of people are still passing just because of the enormous size of the amount they'd have to borrow.

If Congress and/or the DoE were really paying attention they would nip the PSLF-as-marketing-tool right in the bud; these programs were intended as a safety net for the few, not as the primary payment scheme, and I think the schools who have been pushing them in their brochures are both self-destructive in the long term as well as, frankly, unprincipled.


The lending reliance is precarious; first, no matter what you tell students about PSLF/IBR/etc., there apparently is a level of debt which just scares many of them away (with good reason). Secondly, the government has explicitly said they're not going to write blank checks to the schools in perpetuity, and I think several law schools have stepped over the line both morally and tactically by incorporating PSLF-style plans into their marketing materials. These plans were meant as a backup safety net to help students who fell through the cracks, and not as a primary vehicle for financing graduate school.

Whether the current popular plan of reducing hiring and offering faculty buyouts will get save the schools the necessity of either across-the-board salary cuts or large-scale layoffs of tenured faculty is uncertain, but I really doubt it's efficacy. I think a lot of schools are at the moment scrambling desperately to meet operating expenses, though they are also desperately trying to maintain the facade that it's business as usual.

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