Law schools participating in the survey were Columbia Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, George Washington University Law School, Harvard Law School, New York University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, Stanford Law School, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law and University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

Other participating schools included University of Chicago Law School, University of Michigan Law School, University of Minnesota Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Southern California Law School, University of Texas School of Law, University of Virginia School of Law and Vanderbilt University Law School.

Officials at the schools cautioned that enrollment numbers could fluctuate as students make final decisions about their plans. Some schools started orientation last week, but others will not begin until after Labor Day.

Among the 19 responding schools, the one receiving the greatest number of applications for the upcoming year was George Washington University Law School, with 11,500 applicants. Its first-year class, at 530, represents 4.6% of its applicant pool. George Washington also had the second-biggest incoming class, next to Harvard, where 559 students will start law school this year, representing 7.8% of the 7,129 applications it received.

Showing the biggest drop in applications was UCLA’s law school, which received 13% fewer, or 6,319 applications, for the upcoming year.

UCLA law school dean Michael Schill said that an analysis of the applicants’ qualifications indicated that a decrease represented a group of applicants who the school would be “least likely” to admit.

“Students who really don’t have a chance of getting into the law school are not applying as much as they used to,” Schill said.

The greatest increase in applications occurred at University of Minnesota, where they shot up 22%, to 3,073 from 2,509 last year. The school’s incoming class of 276 represents 9% of its applicant pool, compared with last year’s class, which equaled about 11% of its applicants. Alex Johnson Jr., dean of the law school, said it boosted its marketing efforts this year, which included increased direct mailing, a redesigned Web site and more participation in law school forums.

“Most people think bi-coastally. If they think about the middle of the country, they think Chicago. We’ve become a little more aggressive,” Johnson said.

Applications at the University of Pennsylvania Law School also rose dramatically, up 21% to 6,400, compared with 5,268 last year. Dean Michael Fitts said the escalation stemmed from an effort by the law school to integrate its curriculum with The Wharton School and the university’s other professional schools.

Fudging phenomenon?

At 19 top law schools surveyed, minority enrollment decreased 1% this year while enrollment of women rose 0.3%.
University of Southern California -11%
Cornell University -9%
Duke University -5%
New York University -5%
University of California, Berkeley -5%
University of Chicago -5%
Vanderbilt University -5%
University of Michigan +4%
University of Minnesota +3%
Columbia University +3%
Northwestern University +2%
George Washington University +1%
Vanderbilt University -6%
University of Minnesota -5%
University of Southern California -4%
University of Michigan -2%
University of Pennsylvania -2%
University of California, Berkeley +6%
Columbia University +4%
University of California at Los Angeles +3%
Cornell University +2%
Duke University +2%
University of Virginia +2%
Source: NLJ research. Information reported by law schools is preliminary.

But Schill, dean at UCLA, said that some schools may be fudging their application numbers in order to increase their ranking with U.S. News & World Report, which annually evaluates law schools based on several factors, including application numbers.

“That is absolutely not what’s going on here,” Fitts said.

The law school with the highest percentage of minority enrollment for this year was University of Pennsylvania, with 38% of its incoming class indicating minority status.

Schools with the lowest figures were University of Virginia, with 17%; University of Minnesota, with 20%; and Duke, with 22%. Duke also had the greatest drop compared with last year, when minorities made up 27% its incoming class.

Katharine Bartlett, dean of Duke Law School, said minority numbers “go up and down.” She said the school continues aggressive minority recruitment.

Minority numbers fall

Although the number of minorities enrolling in all of the nation’s law schools has steadily increased in the last few years, the percentage of minorities in the schools has decreased to about 20.3%, according the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Legal Profession. In addition, the percentage of minority hiring among the nation’s top law firms has declined since 2000, from 9.73% to 9.64%, according to The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms.

Reginald Turner, president of the National Bar Association, a nationwide group of black lawyers and judges, said that it is difficult to pinpoint a single reason for the decline in the percentage of minority enrollment.

“In general, as law schools and prospective students seek to deal with both academic and economic pressures, there are additional obstacles created for minority students,” Turner said.

The 19 schools responding had an average of about 45% women comprising their incoming classes this year. UCLA had the highest percentage, 50%, and University of Minnesota had the smallest percentage, 39%. University of California, Berkeley showed a 6 percentage point jump in female enrollment and Vanderbilt had the biggest decline, 6 percentage points.

While overall enrollment remained steady, some schools saw significant changes. Vanderbilt experienced the biggest decrease in enrollment, at 10.5%. Its incoming class totals 203 this year.

The school’s dean, Edward Rubin, said the dip represented a leveling off of unusually high enrollment numbers last year. The school’s goal for enrollment is 200 students, he said. But its 8.8% drop in applications plus a 6 percentage point decrease in women enrollees and a 5 percentage point decline in minorities in its first-year class was due to a problem of “coordination” within its admissions department. Rubin, who joined Vanderbilt in July, said he has hired a new admissions director.