Guess Who’s Not Enrolling in Law School

The ABA just updated its legal education statistics page, and now all the PDFs include confusing charts because time decreases from left to right on the x-axis. Fortunately, I don’t subject my readers to such nonsense. Here are a few highlights.

(1)  2012 was the first time ever that the number of 1Ls dropped below the number of J.D.s conferred.

Law School Enrollment

It’ll get worse in 2013 because there will be something like 47,000 law school graduates who enrolled during the peak in 2010.

(2)  Last year’s enrollments averaged to about what they were in 1999, 1984, and 1976. Given that the number of 1Ls per school was at a record low going back to 1969, it’s really going to hit the fan this year.

Per Law School Enrollment Data

(3)  And just who is choosing not to enroll? Why, men and non-minorities, of course.

1Ls by SexNo. Minority & Non-Minority 1LsMinority 1Ls Share of Total

1L Men are down 18 percent from 2010, 1L women 13 percent from 2009 (their peak). Notably, male 1Ls had been trending downward since people were going to law school to dodge the Vietnam draft (I think). The last decade saw a break from that, probably due to the stock bubble popping, but now men are jaundiced to law school for good.

For three years now minorities have comprised more than a quarter of all 1Ls because non-minorities are now disproportionately less likely to enroll. (Hypothesis: Minorities don’t read L.A. Times editorials about how there are too many law schools.)

I expect law schools and some lawyers to be sanguine about these two developments because a higher proportion of minority and women law students should translate into a more diverse profession. This I doubt.

Rather, it signals that the children of capital and land owners (i.e. white men) are bailing on the profession. Opening law to minorities and women hasn’t translated into significant enfranchisement to begin with due to the legal profession’s hiring and retention practices (to say nothing of oversupply), so increasing their proportions is unlikely to improve things. For example, The National Law Journal ran an article last week about an academic who claims that minority applicants “misapply” to law schools that won’t accept them due to their low LSAT scores, as though down-market law schools provide the meaningful access to the profession that elite ones do.

According to the ABA’s lawyer demographics table, as of 2000, 27 percent of lawyers were women, which is up from 20 percent in 1990 and 8 percent in 1980, but that impressive growth doesn’t accommodate all the women graduating from law school. Nor do we know if they benefit from legal education as much as men do, even though they pay the same price. And don’t point at justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan; they went to Columbia, Yale, and Harvard. As for minorities, in 2010, the profession was 88 percent white, barely unchanged from a decade earlier.

There’s a wealth of information about these topics in the Official Guide, and I may look into it, but adding gender and racial dimensions to law school debt and outcomes isn’t going to end well. Expect accusations of people trying to deny access to the profession to disadvantaged groups versus law schools exploiting those groups for federal loan dollars.

One comment

  1. Sadly, many of those minorities are taking the plunge because often they are the first in their family to graduate from college. They believe that they can increase their “market value” by earning a “professional” degree. Frankly, some of these men and women may not have constant internet access.

    Of course, the law school pigs, i.e. “professors,” admi$$ion$ officers and administrators , will proclaim that they are “opening the doors of the profession” to those who have been historically under-represented in the schools and field. We need to reach out to these victims.

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