If the halls of law schools seem a bit emptier this year, it’s not your imagination.
Approximately 8,000 fewer first-year law students will show up nationwide this year compared to two years ago, when enrollment reached an all-time high, according to the American Bar Association. This year’s numbers represent a 15 percent decline since then and a 9 percent decline since last year.
The ABA released preliminary enrollment numbers from its annual law school questionnaire—an unusual move that leaders said was prompted by intense interest in admissions trends.
The ABA typically collects a wealth of admissions and enrollment data from accredited law schools in October and releases its finding in the spring. Barry Currier, the ABA’s interim consultant for legal education, cautioned that the final enrollment figures could change. But the dramatic drop-off was in line with predictions by legal educators who have been tracking the number of applicants, which fell by 14 percent last year, according to the Law School Admission Council.
1L enrollment fell by 3,751 individuals last year and by another 4,216 this year, according to the ABA. Three-fourths of the 201 ABA-accredited law schools enrolled fewer students this year. Of the 149 schools that havefewer 1Ls, 90 saw enrollment reduced by 10 percent or more. Forty-eight lawschools saw increased enrollment this year, but only 10 saw boosts of 10 percent or more. The ABA did not disclose results for individual schools.
It’s not yet clear how declining enrollment is reflected in the academic credentials of 1Ls; the ABA will not release median undergraduate grade-point averages and scores on the Law School Admission Test until the spring. For the first time, schools’ reported LSAT and grade-point-average data is subject to review by the LSAC to confirm its accuracy. That change came after two law schools were found to be inflating those figures, which helped to improve their U.S. News & World Report rankings.
“Over the past year, the section has worked hard to improve its methods of collecting and monitoring the data it needs to properly accredit law schools,” said Kent Syverud, dean of Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and chair of the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. “This effort includes, among other things, a substantial focus on admissions, bar passage, enrollment and job placement data so that the ABA has a capacity to identify and intervene earlier when the data indicates a problem at a school.”
Karen Sloan is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York.