Law schools in and around New Jersey are getting a lesson in the new reality of a much-diminished demand for legal education.
To cope with the revenue decline that goes along with fewer students, administrators have taken a variety of steps, from trimming staff and faculty to improving marketing.
Others have weathered the storm through government or university funding.
But each institution seems intent on adapting to new enrollment baselines they don't expect to trend upward anytime soon.
Seton Hall University School of Law is the prime example locally.
According to numbers reported by the school, enrollment dipped to 850 for the 2012-13 academic year, including full- and part-time students.
That's a 13.5 percent drop from 983 in 2011-12, and down further from the previous five years, when enrollment hovered between 1,060 and 1,110.
Seton Hall's highest enrollment in the past decade was in 2003-04, when it had 1,332 students and it was New Jersey's largest law school by nearly double. Its enrollment remains higher than the state's other two law schools, but not by much.
Faculty have felt the pinch. The school has reported 41 full-time and 70 part-time professors (111 total) for 2012-13. According to American Bar Association data, that is a drop of at least 24 percent from each of the preceding academic years, when faculty totals ranged from 146 to 155.
The school has told all seven of its untenured junior faculty that their contracts might not be renewed for the 2014-15 academic year.
Beyond that, all faculty members have accepted 10 percent pay cuts.
Dean Patrick Hobbs declined interview requests, but in a statement acknowledged the "dramatic drop in interest in legal education" and promised more cost-cutting.
The drop at Rutgers Law School-Camden was even more dramatic: it had 711 full- and part-time students in 2012-13, a 17.9 percent fall from 866 the prior year.
The decline might be partly attributable to the proposed merger of Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden, which, when announced last year, was poorly received by law school applicants concerned about a possible name change. The merger now excludes the law school, which instead plans to unify with Rutgers Law School-Newark as of fall 2014.
In addition, last year's decline appears more dramatic because the 866 enrollment total in 2011-12 was the highest in a decade, during which total enrollment eclipsed the 800-student mark only once. Still, the 711 total is 9.5 percent less than the school's average enrollment during that 10-year span (786).
Like many schools, Rutgers-Camden's third-year class is its largest, says Dean Rayman Solomon.
A few years ago, when demand for legal education increased with students putting off job hunts amid the recession, law schools appeared "immune" from the slow job market, Solomon says.
But "when corporations don't want to hire [in-house counsel] and law firms cut down on the number of associates, eventually it gets passed down to students," he says.
"We're not predicting the demand for law school will increase dramatically" during the next two to four years, he adds.
Rutgers-Camden has not contemplated employee cuts, and even made four replacement hires last year. Total full- and part-time faculty was 116 last year, 108 in 2011-12, 104 in 2010-11 and 99 in 2009-10.
A reduced work force nevertheless is planned, but instead will come through attrition when the two Rutgers law schools merge, Solomon says.
Target enrollment and faculty levels for the combined school haven't been determined yet, says Solomon.
At Rutgers-Newark, the 803 total students in 2012-13 is nearly identical to the 800 in the prior year, though it's about 4.3 percent less than the 839 in 2010-11 and 840 in 2009-10.
As a result, the school hasn't considered cuts and made five replacement hires last year. The 54 full-time and 45 part-time faculty (99 total) in 2012-13 was exactly the same as in the prior year. There were 93 faculty in 2010-11, 111 in 2009-10 and 91 the year before.
Public vs. Private Price Differential
The flat numbers are due in part to being a public institution where demand for a more affordable legal education has persisted and up to 19 percent of the budget comes from the state, says acting Dean Ronald Chen.
"We're half the price of a private law school," he says. "We have the ability to adjust to this new reality better."
Still, the future looks bleaker. A particularly large incoming class three years ago has kept total enrollment high, and this fall's incoming class is expected to be about 206 students, Chen says.
Schools in neighboring states that produce New Jersey lawyers have faced the same challenges.
New York Law School, historically the state's largest, is shrinking fast. The 1,503 students enrolled in 2012-13 represent a drop of 14.8 percent from the prior year (1,765 students) and 21.8 percent from 2010-11 (1,923 students).
Applications, meanwhile, have gone from about 4,800 last year to about 3,400 for the upcoming academic year.
The incoming class consists of 446 students, down from 550 in 2012-13 and 601 in 2011-12. Another reduction is projected for the next academic year, when the school expects 300 to 350 students.
"We're getting smaller quicker," says Anthony Crowell, who became dean in May 2012. "I can't conceive of it shooting back up — for us it's a new reality."
In response, the school developed a previously unavailable "pathway to emeritus" program, through which seven professors have agreed to retire during the next four years. There's also an "early separation program" that has accounted for 20 staff departures in return for severance pay based on years of service. That's a staff reduction of about 15 percent, and more cuts are expected, Crowell says.
With admissions standards — aside from a possible one-point drop in LSAT results — and tuition staying the same, the other big effort is to generate more interest.
Crowell says doing so means producing practice-ready lawyers in areas where there is still demand: business and financial services, intellectual property and government.
The number of clinical programs has doubled, from 13 to 26, and the school guarantees an externship or clinical program for each student.
Crowell also says he's emphasizing the school's location — a few minutes' walk from Wall Street, the courts and government agencies.
Brooklyn Law School, too, is preaching the importance of a practical curriculum in tune with areas of demand — particularly corporate compliance and other nontraditional law positions that require or greatly benefit from a law degree, says Dean Nicholas Allard.
Brooklyn Law has hired a full-time externship director and introduced an accelerated two-year juris doctor program. The grueling program requires students to complete the same number of credits in one fewer year, but it has generated interest from professionals in the work force and members of the military, Allard says.
All the measures are meant to address waning demand. The 1,270 students in 2012-13 represent a 9.2 percent decrease from the prior year's 1,398. In 2010-11, it was 1,461.
No nonattrition faculty reductions have been made, but operating costs in general — and the staff budget in particular — have been trimmed by about 10 percent.
In addition, the school is "being very hard-headed about hires," Allard says.
The information-technology department is re-evaluating a major contract with an outside vendor. Even cutting seemingly small expenses helps — glossy promotional publications aren't necessary when most students read school information online, Allard says.
Brooklyn Law also seeks increased fundraising and has replaced some scholarships with loans, though the school may repay portions of student debt.
Staying Small 'Best Strategic Call'
The Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia is a unique case: the recently founded school enrolled its first class in 2006-07.
Class size (140 to 150) and faculty size (about 35) have been stable, and the university provides a "huge" subsidy, says Dean Roger Dennis.
But declining interest has forced the school to abandon plans to increase yearly enrollment from 420 to upward of 600, and plans for a new $60 million facility were put on hold.
"That's why staying small was the best strategic call we've ever made," says Dennis, who was acting dean and then dean of Rutgers-Camden from 1990 to 1997.
Earle Mack, too, is beefing up clinics as part of its marketing approach through the "co-op program," which Dennis describes as an "externship program on steroids" that requires 400 practice hours per student.
Another Philadelphia school, the James E. Beasley School of Law at Temple University, has "intentionally" reduced its class size because of the dried-up job market and drop in applicants, says Dean JoAnne Epps, adding that tuition was raised "modestly."
The decline has been less dramatic than at other schools. The 861 total enrollment in 2012-13 represents a drop of 4.5 percent from 2011-12 (902), and 12.4 percent from 2010-11 (983). Enrollment was 976 the year before that.
Neither faculty nor staff cuts are planned, and one or two hires are likely in the upcoming year, Epps says.
She agrees with Allard that cuts to other expenses can add up, such as staff luncheons and school-sponsored travel.
In addition, Temple — a "state-related" institution that is technically not public but nonetheless is affiliated with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania — does receive legislative funding, "but it's a source [that's] not gotten any bigger" in recent years, Epps says.