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In keeping with a nationwide trend, application totals at six of the nine law schools in Texas dropped for the second consecutive year, according to figures provided by the schools. Wendy Margolis, communications director for the Pennsylvania-based Law School Admission Council (LSAC), says law school applications for the fall 2006 entering class at American Bar Association-approved law schools dropped 6.3 percent nationwide. In the south central region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, the number of applications dropped 11.7 percent this year, Margolis says. She notes that the double-digit decline in applications to law schools in the south central region is attributable to Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast area in August 2005. “The Louisiana [law schools] are down more than other schools in that region,” she says. The LSAC is a nonprofit corporation whose members are more than 200 law schools in the United States and Canada. Among other duties, the LSAC gathers data on its member schools and administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Referring to the drop in law school applications, Margolis says, “The way we see it, it’s a leveling off.” The total number of applications increased by more than 17 percent in 2001, she says. At Texas law schools, the decrease in application numbers ranges from 2.9 percent at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth to 12.3 percent at South Texas College of Law (STCL). Texas Wesleyan law school received 2,027 applications this year, down from 2,088 in 2005. STCL received 2,205 applications this year, compared to 2,515 last year. Despite the drop in application numbers, most of the Texas law schools have maintained the size of the first-year classes enrolled this year. Only the University of Texas School of Law has had a major reduction in the size of its entering class. Lawrence Sager, UT’s new law school dean, says the school, over several years, has reduced the size of its entering class from 550 to around 450 and that may be one of the reasons the number of applications has fallen off. “We thought [the reduction] was needed to improve the student-teacher ratio,” he says. Total enrollment in this year’s entering class at UT is 433, says Laura Castro, spokeswoman for the law school. James Alfini, STCL’s dean, says the drop in applications at his school may be “a quirky one-year thing” and that he would be more worried if the numbers continue to drop over several years. “Even though our application pool was smaller this year, our entering class numbers were actually improved,” Alfini says. Alfini says the median LSAT score for students in STCL’s entering class went up a point to 154 and the median college grade point average went up a couple hundredths of a point to 3.24. The number of students in STCL’s entering class remains stable. Alicia Cramer, STCL’s assistant dean of admissions, says 357 students enrolled in the first-year class this year, up from 353 in 2005. Several experts who monitor law school application trends say the downturn in the number of applicants reflects the nation’s healthy economy. “It’s typically a sign the economy is strengthening for law school applications to go down,” says Cynthia Fountaine, interim dean at Texas Wesleyan law school. When the economy gets better, graduate professional school applications go down, because more people tend to stay in the job market after they complete their undergraduate degrees, says Monica Ingram, assistant dean for admissions at the University of Texas School of Law. Tom Leatherbury of Dallas, hiring partner for Vinson & Elkins, says the students less likely to apply to law school when the economy is doing well are those who aren’t certain they want to be lawyers or those who have other priorities, such as a need to pay off college loans. “The really qualified students who want to be lawyers are still sending applications,” Leatherbury says. While most law schools have seen a decline in applications, two in Texas are bucking the national trend. Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law saw a 16 percent increase in applications. Edward Rene, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at Thurgood Marshall, says the school received 2,451 applications this year, up from 2,112 received in 2005. Baylor Law School experienced a 0.5 percent increase, receiving 2,450 applications this year, up from 2,437 received last year, says Becky Beck-Chollett, admissions director for the school. “This is our peak year,” Beck-Chollett says. Beck-Chollett attributes Baylor Law School’s increase in total applications to its marketing efforts. Those efforts include sending information about Baylor to all students who have taken the LSAT and who meet the criteria Baylor is looking for. Baylor also sends a mini compact disc with a video on the law school to those students, she says. “It’s all about marketing and getting your name out to these applicants,” Beck-Chollett says. Texas Tech University School of Law experienced only a minimal drop in its application numbers. Donna Williams, admissions counselor at the Texas Tech law school, says the school received 1,831 applications for the 2006 entering class � three less than the school received in 2005, when its application numbers peaked. “We’re not going down yet,” Williams says. At Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, applications declined about 12.1 percent this year. Virginia Keehan, assistant dean and director of admissions at the SMU law school, says the school received 2,640 applications this year, compared to 3,002 last year. “Our school is tending to follow the trend nationally,” Keehan says. Keehan refers questions about whether the controversy over SMU law school graduate Harriet Miers’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court last year had an impact on the school’s application numbers to Dean John Attanasio, who did not return two telephone calls seeking comment. At the time of Miers’ nomination, there was a heated, snobbish battle over her credentials that often centered around the SMU law school. Conservative commentators branded it an institution of lower learning, unworthy of birthing a Supreme Court justice. After Miers withdrew her name from consideration in October 2005, Attanasio told Texas Lawyer, “I am not blinking at the notion that our school got criticized for not being one of the elite law schools. But if the question is, “Does SMU have something to be embarrassed about?’ the answer is no.” Quality Questions The downward trend in application numbers also has impacted the UT law school, one of the top-tier schools in the nation. UT law received 4,999 applications this year, down from 5,442 received in 2005, a decrease of 8.1 percent. “It’s a little hard to know whether we’re looking at a decline or a funny bump,” Sager says of the decline in applications. Sager says UT began to experience an increase in law school applications in the late 1990s and peaked in 2004, when 6,095 applications came in. But even with the drop experienced over the past two years, UT is still running ahead of the total number of applications it received in 2000, he says. Sager says that for the most part, UT has not actively recruited in-state or out-of-state applicants in the past but will begin a new recruitment effort this year to “announce ourselves to the rest of the world.” UT is hosting student receptions on Oct. 4 in Washington, D.C., and on Oct. 18 in New York City. The school is inviting students who took the LSAT in June to meet him and hear more about UT, Sager says. St. Mary’s University School of Law also saw an 8.1 percent decline in its application numbers. Rob Leibold, St. Mary’s communications coordinator, says the law school received 1,902 applications this year, down from 2,069 in 2005. Bill Piatt, St. Mary’s law dean, attributes the drop in applications at his institution to a tightening of its admissions criteria over the past two to three years. Students who don’t meet St. Mary’s standards may be focusing on other schools, he says. Piatt says St. Mary’s tightened the criteria for admission to the school to improve its passing rate on the state bar exam, which dropped to about 50 percent five years ago. St. Mary’s had an 81 percent passing rate in February, he says. Beginning in 2007, it may be even more difficult for students to get into St. Mary’s law school. Piatt says the school will reduce the size of its entering class by 25 percent next year, making up the revenue by admitting students to a new evening program aimed at students who already have had other careers. The University of Houston Law Center, STCL and SMU already have evening programs. Applications to the UH law center dropped about 7.7 percent this year. Jamie Hammers, the law school’s assistant dean for admissions, says UH received 3,386 applications this year, compared to 3,671 in 2005. Hammers says the law center’s applications peaked in 2003, when it received 4,114. Texas law school officials say the decrease in the number of applications has not forced them to compromise their standards. “We were happy to be able to admit a class without sacrificing anything in terms of quality” of the students, says Fountaine, the interim dean at Texas Wesleyan. Kathleen Beasley, hiring partner at Dallas-based Haynes and Boone, says the downturn in the number of applications has not had a negative impact on the quality of candidates the firm is interviewing this fall for her firm’s summer associate program. “We have not seen a decline in the quality [of law students],” Beasley says. “We have seen very impressive, high-quality students.” John Anaipakos, hiring partner at Baker Botts in Houston, says the decrease in class size at UT law school is having more of an immediate impact than the decline in the number of applications at most of the other Texas schools. “For any major Texas law firm, that’s a significant event,” Anaipakos says. UT is the largest law school in Texas, is nationally ranked and “it’s right in our backyard,” Anaipakos says. “When that law school shrinks by about 25 percent, it’s significant when you’re trying to grow your new lawyer numbers.” But Beasley, the Haynes and Boone hiring partner, says she has not seen the reduction in UT’s class size have that big of an impact. Beasley says there always has been lots of competition among firms for top students. “We’re still seeing a high quality of UT student,” Beasley says. Anaipakos says Baker Botts’ Houston office has expanded the number of law school campuses that its recruiters will visit to search for candidates for the summer associate program. More than 60 law students, including some who just completed their first year of law school, work at Baker Botts in Houston each summer, he says. For the first time this year, the Baker Botts Houston recruiters will travel to the University of Notre Dame Law School, Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Emory University School of Law in Atlanta and the SMU law school in Dallas, Anaipakos says. The Houston office’s recruitment team also will visit St. Mary’s law school for the second year and, for the first time since the 1990s, will visit on campus at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, he says. “We’re certainly resisting the urge to lower our academic standards, but we’ve expanded the universe of law schools we visit,” Anaipakos says.
Texas Law School No. of Applications in 2006 No. of Applications in 2005 Percent Change
Baylor Law School 2,450 2,437 0.5
South Texas College of Law 2,205 2,515 -12.3
Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law 2,640 3,002 -12.1
St. Mary’s University School of Law 1,902 2,069 -8.1
Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law 2,451 2,112 16
Texas Tech University School of Law 1,831 1,834 -0.2
Texas Wesleyan University School of Law 2,027 2,088 -2.9
University of Houston Law Center 3,386 3,671 -7.7
University of Texas School of Law 4,999 5,442 -8.1
Texas Lawyer, October 2006

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