The number of entering law students nationwide dropped below 40,000 this fall for the first time in close to four decades.
According to figures released by the American Bar Association, law schools enrolled 39,675 new students this fall—an 11 percent decrease from the 44,481 students who enrolled last fall. The last time law schools saw such low 1L enrollment was 1975, when there were 163 ABA-accredited law schools. There are 202 such schools today.
Even more ominous for law schools administrators, this fall’s new enrollment represents a 24 percent decline from the 52,488 new students who matriculated in 2010—the all-time high.
First-year enrollment has steadily declined since 2010, and the number of law school applicants during the last admission cycle fell by more than 12 percent, according to the Law School Admission Council.
University of St. Thomas School of law professor Jerome Organ in June wrote a blog post predicting 38,300 to 39,900 matriculants in 2013.
“Fall 2013 is going to be another year in which many law schools see significant enrollment declines while most law schools see further declines in their LSAT and GPA profiles,” Organ wrote in his post, which appeared on the blog The Legal Whiteboard. “This will be an admissions season in which ‘success’ may be measured by not doing quite as poorly as others in terms of enrollment and profile.”
Indeed, 135 law schools saw the size of their entering class shrink this year, and a full 81 percent of schools saw declines of 10 percent or more, according to the ABA. At the same time, 63 schools saw increased enrollment, 27 of them by 10 percent or more. The ABA did not identify which schools fell into which category, but said it would release more details in the coming months.
Meanwhile, non-J.D. enrollment held fairly steady this year, with 11,139 new students in masters of law (LL.M.s) or other legal programs. That compared to 11,067 in fall 2012. Many law schools have launched LL.M. or other masters programs for non-lawyers in hopes of attracting new students and generating revenue amid waning interest in the traditional J.D.
Most of the nation’s non-J.D. students are concentrated at a relatively small number of law schools, according to the ABA. A full 75 percent of them attend one of 48 law schools, and the five schools with the largest non-J.D. enrollment account for a full 20 percent of all non-J.D. students nationwide.