n < 60,000

LSAC, “Current Volume Summary

Final applicant count: 59,426

Final application count: 385,358

No. Applicants Over App Cycle No. Applications Over App Cycle

Importantly, the change in applicants in 2013 over 2012 is less than the change in 2012 over 2011: -8,531 applicants this year versus -10,924 last year. This suggests that the applicant plateau might be approaching. Maybe -6,000 next year and not -10,000. The number of applications, however, has plummeted, which means the number applications per applicant has dropped as well. Since young people tend to send out more applications than older people, it’s probably them.

Applications Per Applicant (2013)

Indeed, the projected final applicant count was much lower back in January (~54,000, which is -9.0 percent from 59,426), meaning the number of applicants “accelerated” into in the cycle. Behold:

Average Monthly Final Applicant EstimateAverage Monthly Final Applicant Estimate Variance

You can see the same thing happening in 2012 and 2011. People whom we would’ve expected to send out many applications early in the cycle aren’t doing so. Conversely, in 2010, the final estimate in March was high, which indicates fewer people applied than were expected. This was when the applicant nosedive began.

Still, the early-year variance has been quite pronounced in the last three cycles. It could be law schools shifting their application deadlines further back, or it could be a “swap” in applicants, like, for every two younger applicants who’re bailing, another older one is taking his or her place in April.

Oh, and lest you agree with a handful of law professors’ rationalizations, the number of applicants isn’t down because the economy is recovering:

Applicants per Law School

The number of applicants per school has reached a record low going back as far as the ABA can tell us. It probably hasn’t been like this since the late ’60s/early ’70s. Probably no one in legal academia has ever experienced anything like this before. In fact, probably no one in higher education has experienced anything like this before.

8 comments

  1. But, god, things are adjusting so *slowly*…powerful, complicit frauds (see recent USN&WR ROI calculation travesty) look like they will fight a rear guard action unto death.

    Idle thought – could USN&WR be liable for negligent misrepresentation in light of ABA stats?

    1. Yeah, I thought the reaction would be swifter too, like 50,000 applicants instead of 60,000. Partly it’s that a lot of the people showing up this year are way more subsidized than in the past, so the proportion—and possibly even the absolute number—of 1Ls being asked to pay full-freight is higher.

      I’m sure U.S. News will wrap itself around a First Amendment defense and point to some boilerplate telling people that the rankings are only one tool applicants should use in their decisions. It’s kind of a strange statement to hear: “Our product is indispensably important, but it’s not *that* important.”

  2. General observation – looking at the post 2009 collapse in applicants/law school (last chart) I think a good case can be made that the 33% reduction (from 450 to 300 applicants per school) is a pretty good quantification of the impact of the law scam movement.

    It is always nice to be able to quantify one’s efforts.

    You have done a good job separating out the impact of general economic cycles as well – the overlay of EMRATIO really isolates the sui generis (see, law school was worth it…) nature of the latest applicant collapse.

    Broader note – I think you may have a post in you concerning the macroeconomic utility of the 25-to-54 EMRATIO (available at the St. Louis Fed’s FRED system).

    That is a fine metric for isolating out the effect of America’s aging demographic from the collapse in “working years” employment.

    Sadly, some otherwise competent websites (Calculated Risk comes to mind, their link buddies notwithstanding) have been using the aging of America to obscure the decade long collapse in 25-to-54 employment.

    Which is rather like using an apple to justify an orange.

    1. Actually, that EMRATIO chart is one of my worst ones, and that’s ignoring the fact that it includes retiring old people. The axes are measuring two different things so it’s hard to say that they’re comparable, though I think they are and the point is broadly made.

      1. Another note on EMRATIO (especially 25 to 54 subset) – note how it gives the lie to the cover story that the current ruin is “simply a “cyclical downturn” resulting from the 2008 crisis” (favorite crap excuse of law deans everywhere).

        Things have been sliding downward for over a *decade* now (probably as a result of a combination of the internet facilitating international work relocation and the rise of China).

        We aren’t in the middle of a cyclical downturn – we are 10 years into a secular decline.

        With a political leadership class that has never within its professional memory had to do anything other than reap the surplus of an ever growing economy.

      2. cas127,

        The jobs decline isn’t secular; it’s caused by the trade deficit, financial deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and deadweight taxes. Weaken the dollar, increase net exports, create jobs, and cause Wal-Mart and the banksters to lose money.

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