Fewer Quality Law School Applicants in 2012

The LSAC updated the “members only” section of its Web site recently, which for some reason is available to all who deep link to it. Of interest is its “ABA Fall 2012 Applicant and Application Counts,” which it updates weekly. As of March 30, 60,693 people applied to law school, 91 percent of the total compared to 2011. That’s a projected total of 66,696 applicants this year, or 335.2 applicants per law school, clearly below the record low of 346.8 in 1985.

As for which law schools feel the impact, the LSAC is coy.

Currently there is one school with an application volume increase of 40% or more, while 17 schools show a volume decrease of 30% or more. 29 schools show an increase in applications, while 167 show a decline and 2 show no change. A more detailed breakdown of school increases/decreases is shown below:

Increase of 100% or more: 1
Increase of 50% to 99%: -
Increase of 40% to 49%: -
Increase of 30% to 39%: -
Increase of 20% to 29%: 1
Increase of 10% to 19%: 11
Increase of 1% to 9%: 16
No change: 2
Decrease of 1% to 9%: 34
Decrease of 10% to 19%: 76
Decrease of 20% to 29%: 40
Decrease of 30% or greater: 17

Applications to private institutions are down 13.5%, while applications to public law schools are down 13.8%.

I’m betting that the law school with double applicant growth is UC-Irvine because it was provisionally accredited only last year. I think the LSAC is counting Widener as one law school as well.

One quarter of the law schools are seeing an applicant drop of more than 20 percent, but the real prize is the distribution of applicants by their highest LSAT score, which the Current Volume Summary only started tracking this year.

It’s pretty clear that the law schools will fight harder for quality applicants going forward as many predicted. Many of those who received high LSAT scores chose not to apply, and depressingly, those who have the lowest scores are still available. This development prompts two thoughts: (1) All those law school deans who say that only the truly dedicated are now applying to law school better not whine about their incoming classes’ credentials. (2) I criticize the LSAT and standardized testing as much as anyone else, but you really have to wonder who from the low end is applying now and why. Are the low-end applicants going into part-time programs at public law schools? How many of them will pass the bar?

Finally, this is an unprecedented reversal, but it’s not a “market correction,” and it’s certainly not “the bubble popping” as I’ve seen it described elsewhere. Market corrections occur when people can base their decisions on accurate information. Here, there’s still (and ever will be) insufficient accurate information as to the long-term value of the J.D., and 60,000+ people in 2012 think that they’ll be among the 440,000 who will get 212,000 lawyer positions of varying quality. This is why I deliberately titled my previous Am Law Daily piece, “U.S. News Data Show 2011 May Be Beginning of End for Law School Tuition Bubble,” not that those who cited it noticed.

Sure, it’ll be impressive to see programs close in the next few years, but it’s not like there’re only 35,000 applicants. As it is, there are still way, way, way too many people applying to law school. The majority of the matriculants will not work as lawyers in dignified 40-year careers no matter how better prepared they are or even if they paid slightly less than their predecessors, and few will rise to more prominent positions, e.g. the judiciary. Apparently a year’s worth of New York Times articles saying as much wasn’t sufficient to debunk the 20th century definition of “upward mobility” that law schools continue to sell their applicants.

Did I mention that GRE administrations were at a record high in 2011 now that MBA programs are accepting them?

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5 Responses

  1. I’d love to see the GPA breakdown of the 2012 applicants compared to the 2011 pool along with majors, etc.

    I’m sure that a full dive into the data would reveal that it’s not the “greedy” still applying but more of the desperate, derailed, deranged…the ones who find meaning and purpose or as I call them the Eeyore Lemmings.

    • The GPA breakdowns are probably the same as before: Grades are watered down to whack. Eeyore lemmings, zero lemmings … What depresses me is that a bunch of the deterred applicants are probably applying to business school instead. Same species, different cliff.

  2. At least an MBA is only 2 years of debt….progress!!!

  3. The numbers of applicants and LSAT takers was down last year, as well. When will the ABA swine update their enrollment link?

    http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/stats_1.authcheckdam.pdf

    As it stands, the schools will lower their “standards” initially. After all, they don’t want to pass up on that money. However, if the decrease in applicants is a trend, how much further can the schools lower their admissions criteria?!

  4. [...] blog, the Law School Tuition Bubble, has an even deeper insight: the smart ones aren’t applying. The erosion is concentrated on the people with the highest LSAT scores. Of course that makes sense [...]

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