The American Bar Association won’t release the latest figures on law school enrollment until the spring, but its clear that there are fewer 1Ls on campus this year.
New student enrollment already dropped by nearly 4,000 at ABA-accredited law schools last year, and now a new survey of admissions offers by test prep company Kaplan shows that slightly more than half — 51 percent — reduced the size of their incoming class this year.
Of those cutting their class size, 63 percent cited the tight legal job market as the reason, according to the survey.
“With the supply of new lawyers outpacing the available number of positions for new lawyers, this is the most critical time for legal education,” said Jeff Thomas, the director of Kaplan’s prelaw programs. “Our survey shows that law schools are taking much-needed action to better prepare new lawyers for the changing job landscape, while at the same time accepting fewer students, as they know jobs will not be easy to come by.”
It’s likely that U.S. News & World Report’s influential law school rankings have been a factor in smaller class sizes as well. The number of law school applicants nationwide has dropped by nearly 25 percent during the past two years, and most law schools simply don’t have as many prospective lawyers to choose from. Without reducing their class size, many law schools would be forced to enroll students with lower scores on the Law School Admission Test and lower undergraduate grade-point averages — which can lead to a drop in the U.S. News rankings.
The downward trend of law school applicants appears likely to continue. The Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, recently reported that the number of people who took the test in October fell by 16 percent compared to a year ago, and the number of June test takers was down 6 percent.
Of the admissions officers surveyed by Kaplan, 28 percent said they would probably cut the size of their 1L class next academic year. One bright spot in the survey finding was that 47 percent of the surveyed schools increased the total amount of financial aid allocated to new students. Anecdotal evidence from the most recent application cycle suggests that law schools offered more scholarships and financial aid in order to compete with other schools for promising students and fill their seats.
“Now, more than ever, being a highly competitive applicant may earn you great rewards,” Thomas said.
Karen Sloan can be contacted at email@example.com.