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In 1998, Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, New Jersey, received 1,440 applications for admission. But a mere two years later, the school has seen that figure grow by a whopping 32.2 percent, as more than 1,900 students applied to be part of the class that begins its studies this fall. An increase of such magnitude is abnormal and, according to Rutgers Associate Dean for Enrollment Camille Andrews, can be attributed largely to the arrival of Dean Rayman L. Solomon a little more than two years ago. But the renewed interest in attending law school is not merely limited to Rutgers. It’s a trend sweeping law schools nationwide. According to the Law School Admission Council, approximately 76,800 students applied for admission to law school this year. It marks the second straight year of increase in the number of students electing to attend law school. During the 1998-1999 academic year, 74,400 students applied to law schools, a 3.8 percent increase over the previous year. The increase bucked the trend, which was a steady decline in law school applications for much of the 1990s. The increase has not gone unnoticed in the Philadelphia area. With the exception of the University of Pennsylvania, which receives more applications than any Philadelphia-area school but has recorded a 10.1 percent decrease in applications over the past two years, local schools have recently witnessed their application numbers rise toward the record numbers achieved in the 1980s. Demographic changes play a part in this revival. “One of the things we know is that we’re coming into a time period when the number of 22- and 23-year-olds is growing,” said Jody Hobbs, director of admissions at Temple’s Beasley School of Law. Temple has seen the number of its applicants grow by 10.7 percent in the past two years. “It’s one of those echo-boom situations.” This renaissance of interest in law, however, cannot be attributed to one phenomenon. Instead, a multitude of circumstances have come together to contribute to the recent resurgence. Television shows which glamorize the practice of law, such as “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice,” may have helped, much in the same way “L.A. Law” spurred interest in the mid-1980s. Perhaps more importantly, however, new opportunities for lawyers and escalating salaries at prestigious law firms have caused many students to consider law a desirable career path. “The bachelor’s degree is no longer the terminal degree,” said Janice Austin, the assistant dean for admission and financial aid at Penn Law School. “People feel the pressure to get a graduate degree, and a law degree offers a lot of opportunities.” “[Getting a law degree] gives me a lot of flexibility to do a lot of different things,” said Jeremy Reiss, a student who will begin studying at Penn this fall. “My cousin graduated from law school this May, and he said having a J.D. is as good as having an M.B.A. There’s a lot of flexibility.” For many students, possession of a J.D. is seen as more useful and effective than having another type of graduate degree. In fact, while law schools have seen their applicant pools grow in the past two years, business schools have watched as fewer students send in applications to their programs. “If you come out of an M.B.A. program to join a company and eventually become a V.P., it may take you 10 to 15 years to reach that level,” Andrews said. “There are people coming out of law school and reaching that level in a much shorter time.” For students choosing this path, there has never been a better time to enter the workforce. The United States’ recent prosperity and the globalization of the economy, as well as technological advances, have students eyeing the prosperous possibilities which may await them upon graduation. Increasingly, students are looking at law school as the road to that potential success. While some have linked the drop in law school applications in the early 1990s to the hype surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial, the recession may have played a larger part in students choosing career options other than law. Now that the economy has rebounded, so has interest in law school. “It’s the globalization of the economy that’s changing things,” Andrews said. “Lawyers aren’t being used just for their lawyering skills. It’s a very unique degree.” Andrews attributes Rutgers’ huge expansion in applications mostly to the addition of a new dean and the special attention he has paid to admissions. Andrews says Solomon carries an opinion that is becoming more common among those who choose to enter the legal profession. “He truly believes a legal education is the best education you can get, whether you ever intend to practice law or not,” Andrews said. While many students are not following the traditional path for someone with a law degree, prestigious law firms are making it difficult for top law graduates not to use their degrees as attorneys. In the past year, salaries at firms have exploded. A few large Philadelphia firms upped their salaries for first-year associates to more than $100,000 for the first time, while the biggest firms in New York are currently offering more than $130,000 to top graduates as soon as they leave law school. These numbers undoubtedly cross the minds of young people considering law. “Anytime you have salaries flying high the way they are now, you’re going to have interest in the profession,” Andrews said. No matter where they end up after graduation, though, it is becoming quite clear that more and more students are looking at law as the best career path to success. “It just offers more versatility,” Hobbs said. “With a law degree, you’re licensed to do more things.”

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