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The unstable economy created a tricky situation for law school admissions offices this year. Would the downturn prompt more applicants to accept offers of admission? Would the prospect of thousands of dollars of law school debt dissuade accepted applicants from enrolling at the last minute? Admissions officials didn’t know whether they could rely upon the formulas they traditionally have used to determine how many admissions offers to extend to reach their desired incoming class size. For at least one school, experience was little help. The University of Miami School of Law saw a significant increase in its so-called yield rate — the percentage of accepted students who enroll — and has offered incentives for students to defer their starts until the fall of 2010. “In these economically challenged times our past experience has turned out to be a poor guide,” incoming Dean Patricia White said in an e-mail that was sent to incoming students on June 30 and picked up by the legal blog Above the Law. “An unprecedented percentage of applicants admitted to the University Of Miami Law School have accepted our offer. This will give us a larger than optimal first-year class.” Students have until July 10 to tell the school whether they want to defer, but the law school is already preparing for a larger 1L class, White said in an e-mail message to the NLJ. It has added an extra 1L section and has secured additional classroom space. The school is increasing the student services staff “so that we are prepared to handle more students without increasing the size of the actual classes or reducing the quality of students services,” White said. The law school was aiming for an incoming class of 400 to 420 students, said university spokeswoman Karla V. Hernandez. She would not disclose how many students the law school accepted for next fall, but said that the yield rate increased from 28% last year to 36% this year. Those who opt to delay for a year will receive a $5,000 scholarship when they complete 120 hours of public service and will have a better chance at receiving a $75,000 scholarship, among other incentives. Officials at the Law School Admissions Council declined to comment on Miami’s situation, but a spokeswoman said it’s not unheard of for schools to grapple with an undesirably large incoming class. “When some schools find themselves with more depositors than they expected, it’s common to invite students to defer,” said counsel spokeswoman Wendy Margolis. However, it is unusual for a law school to offer deferral incentives to its entire incoming class, according to Sarah Zearfoss, assistant dean and director of admissions at the University of Michigan Law School. In 2003, Michigan’s yield rate increased by 2%, and the admission’s office contacted several individuals who it believed might like to delay law school for a year, Zearfoss said. Miami’s decision to look for volunteers is fairer than automatically deferring incoming students who just met the school’s criteria for acceptance, she said. Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen said his school has experienced unexpected jumps in its yield rates in the past, but has always been able to accommodate the larger classes without having to ask for students to defer. “Even if you have 15% more students than you expect to, you should be able to accommodate that without going into crisis mode,” he said. “You can never plan for an abnormally high yield, because if you do and you’re wrong, you’re in big trouble.” Both Yellen and Zearfoss said that it was largely business as usual this year in their admissions departments. Neither school saw a significant change in the number of applications or yield rates, they said. “I ended up using the formula that I have used in the past [to determine the number of applicants to accept],” said Zearfoss. “I knew it was rolling the dice, but the yield was right on target. I do know of schools that were way under, and Miami was apparently way over. It’s just hard to predict.” It might have been harder than usual to predict yield rates because would-be law students tended to apply to more schools this year, Margolis said. The average law applicant submitted 6.7 packages, up by more than 6% compared to last year. “Their historical data doesn’t help them as much, as far as predicting yields,” Margolis said. Law school applications were up overall this year, but they didn’t surge the way many had predicted. Conventional wisdom holds that more people seek out graduate programs during bad economic times to avoid a tough job market. According to the admissions council, law school applications increased nationally by 4.3%. “We certainly haven’t seen the double-digit increases we saw in past recessions,” said Yellen, who theorized that the high cost of law school and the news of law firm layoffs might have dissuaded some people from applying. But a surge may be on the way for the class of 2010, Zearfoss said. A record number of people showed up for a recent University of Michigan Law School recruiting event in Washington.

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