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When the economy goes down, law school applications and enrollment go up. That basic premise is ringing true in law school admissions offices, where applications for the fall first-year class were up by 5.6 percent nationally — the largest increase in a decade. And according to Edward Haggerty of the Law School Admissions Council, those numbers should continue to increase. During June’s LSAT testing, for students seeking to start in the fall of next year, there were 18.6 percent more test takers than the previous year. Many law schools expect an economy-driven increase in applications for next fall. But this year, the downturn didn’t leave much time for laid off or jaded dot-commers to apply. The first significant wave of high-tech layoffs hit just as law school applications came due toward the end of last year. That left little time for prospective applicants to study for the LSAT, gather up letters of recommendation and mail in their applications. Even so, at least four local law schools are seeing an upswing. Rutgers-Camden has the largest increase, from 205 first-years enrolled to start classes in fall 2000 to 244 this year. The University of Pennsylvania saw an increase from 251 to 261, and Temple, from 346 to 351. At Villanova Law School, where first-year enrollment went up from 242 to 257, dean Mark Sargent was faced with overenrollment. “We had to go out and hire another writing instructor to deal with the additional students, but we still wound up making the classes bigger than we wanted them to be,” Sargent said. “From what I gather, there are a fair number of schools that wound up overenrolled. You always accept more than you expect will come. Sometimes you just guess wrong. And this is one of those situations.” Rutgers-Camden was also faced with overenrollment. Camille Andrews, associate dean of enrollment and projects, said the school had planned to focus on shrinking the class size this year by dividing students into three sections rather than two. But with the big increase in enrollment, despite the extra section, the school wound up with classes almost as big as last year’s and had to hire another research and writing instructor. While applications at Rutgers-Camden were up only 1 percent and the school accepted fewer students (584 this year, compared with 601 last year), more applicants accepted the school’s offers. Andrews said most second-tier schools like Rutgers-Camden generally have about one-third of applicants who accept offers. This year, the school saw almost 42 percent accept offers. “Usually, students will deposit with three or four schools and make up their mind later in the process,” Andrews said. “We almost always have a significant number of people who drop out over the summer. But this year, we had more people making up their minds earlier in the process. There wasn’t as much overlap with other schools. People zeroed in on one.” At Penn, applications were up 9 percent. And while the school accepted fewer students this year than it did last year, the number accepting offers increased. Through it all, Dean Michael Fitts said the school had been able to keep class size level. One local law school actually saw a drop in enrollment. Widener University School of Law, which is trying to be more selective in its admissions, saw the combined enrollment on its Delaware and Harrisburg campuses drop from 541 to 474. Applications, though, were up by almost 20 percent. Several individuals familiar with law school admissions say the enrollment and application increases are consistent with responses to past economic downturns. “I think people hope they can wait out the recession in law school for three years,” Sargent said. “At that point, if the economy has swung around, then they’ll go out and get a good job. And if it hasn’t, then they probably think they’ll be more marketable with a law degree.”

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