National Statistics

Ratio of lawyers per capita
Ratio of law students per capita
Ratio of lawyers per state GSP
Ratio of law students per GSP

2019: Full-Time Private Law School Tuition Up 1.5 Percent, ABA Excludes Fees

Full-time tuition at private ABA-accredited law schools rose 1.5 percent before adjusting for inflation, according to my analysis of (mainly) data released by the ABA in December. I focus on private law school tuition because public law schools receive varying degrees of state subsidies, so they do not reflect the already distorted legal-education market’s prices.

This year’s data release features a revision to the ABA’s collection methodology: providing fees that law schools frequently added to the headline tuition charges. Law schools often give these fees vague names like, “mandatory fees,” which sounds redundant to “tuition.” It’s a phenomenon I noticed very early in my blogging on the topic.

Because of this change to the data-collection methodology, this year’s data should be taken with some skepticism when compared to last year’s because in the past law schools sometimes submitted their tuition and fees as one figure to the ABA and U.S. News while others did not. Now, hopefully, we can compare just the tuition numbers. Consequently, it is possible the change distorts the 1.5 percent annual increase downward. Indeed, the increases in 2019 look less like 2018 and more like 2014 or 2015: increases at expensive law schools and decreases among the cheapest ones. In past years, I hypothesized that these schools were simply too fiscally crunched to afford tuition increases. Perhaps that trend has resumed.

Headline Findings

Separating private law schools into quintiles, here are the increases at the mean of each quintile.

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2019: Law School Applications Fall 1 Percent, Enrollments Flat

By October 2019, there were 36,983 enrollees from the applicant pool at 197 ABA-accredited law schools not in Puerto Rico. This is down 67 (-0.2 percent) from 37,050 in October 2018. Three law schools, Valparaiso, Whittier, and Arizona Summit, appear on the ABA’s required disclosures Web site and spreadsheets, but they are just placeholders. Arizona Summit had 17 enrollees last year. La Verne and Thomas Jefferson do have 509 reports, even though they announced their closures.

Moving to applications, these 197 law schools received 375,468 applications to all their programs, down 3,679 (-1.0 percent) from 379,147. The median law school accepted 47.1 percent of its applicants, but that’s only down from 47.9 percent in 2018. Here’s an image of the dispersion; overall, they’re trending downward, signifying increased selectivity.

With fewer applications and flat enrollments, the analysis of application distribution becomes more salient. Once again, applicants trended toward more interest in some law schools than others. The Gini coefficient for applications among all 197 of these law schools is now 0.444, which is negligibly higher than last year (0.436). By contrast, back in 2011 it was only 0.357. (You can read about how to interpret Gini coefficients mean here.)

As with previous years, below is a modified Lorenz curve, a line that typically measures the cumulative distribution of a quantity in order from the recipient of the smallest amount to the largest. Usually researchers use it to illustrate the distribution of income among households. I’ve modified the Lorenz curve according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the previous year because the rankings are an independent measurement of law-school eliteness as seen by LSAT takers and applicants roughly at the time that they apply. Here is what I could cobble together going back to 2011.

The U.S. News rankings can be quite fluid year to year the further down its list one goes, and in the previous two years there’s been some shifting into and out of the top 50, next 50, and 101-150. It appears that the average top-50 law school received 2.4 percent less applications than in the 2018 cycle, but in the more static top 14, the average was plus 4.9 percent. The next 50 saw a 1.3 percent decline on average, but the remaining didn’t change much at all.

Information on this topic from prior years:

Labor Dept.: 50,100 New Lawyer Jobs by 2028, Turnover of 27 Percent

On September 4, 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its employment projections for the next cycle, 2018-2028.

For 2018, the BLS’s Employment Projections program (EP program) estimates that there were 823,900 lawyer positions (as opposed to discrete lawyers) in the United States. This figure includes self-employed attorneys. In 2016, the EP program found 792,500 lawyer positions, so there has been some growth between the two years. According to the BLS’s Current Population Survey (CPS), in 2018, 1.199 million people worked as lawyers in the United States. The discrepancy between the CPS and the EP program has existed for some time. In their respective contexts, both figures are correct.

The BLS projects future employment trends in part to help job seekers evaluate career choices, and the projections play an outsized role in the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Here is an illustration from various sources that converts the flows of law-school graduates and new lawyers into stocks that can be compared to BLS employment measures since the 1980s.

Click here to read more:

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CLASS OF 2018 EMPLOYMENT REPORT: About the Same

Good morning, folks! Law-school-employment data are in, and before there’s a revision, this post will depict what they show. As with last year, I’m going to start with the headline information and save the law-school-level ranking of shame for later.

To begin with, here’s the table of graduate underemployment. (Everything on this post excludes the three Puerto Rico law schools.)

STATUS (EXCL. P.R.) 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Unemployed – Not Seeking 1,245 1,014 939 795 553 494 469 441 387
Unemployed – Seeking 2,686 4,016 4,770 5,060 4,103 3,744 3,142 2,610 2,348
Status Unknown 1,458 1,453 1,073 979 841 766 557 437 444
Total Grads 43,526 43,735 45,757 46,112 43,195 39,423 36,619 34,393 33,751
Unemployed – Not Seeking 2.9% 2.3% 2.1% 1.7% 1.3% 1.3% 1.3% 1.3% 1.1%
Unemployed – Seeking 6.2% 9.2% 10.4% 11.0% 9.5% 9.5% 8.6% 7.6% 7.0%
Status Unknown 3.3% 3.3% 2.3% 2.1% 1.9% 1.9% 1.5% 1.3% 1.3%
Total Percent 12.4% 14.8% 14.8% 14.8% 12.7% 12.7% 11.4% 10.1% 9.4%

As with the last few years, overall underemployment fell faster than the number of graduates. The rate of decline appears to be slowing, which isn’t good, but it’s still progress.

On the reverse side, 69.2 percent of graduates found full-time long-term work in bar-passage-required jobs. Last year, that figure was 67.0 percent, so it’s a two-percent jump. In three years, the percentage has risen by 6.7 points, which is quite notable. However, the rate of improvement appears to be slowing, even if the actual number of graduates finding these jobs rose by 300.

So what’s different this year? Let’s take a look at the analytic tables that compare this year to last year.

EMPLOYMENT STATUS NO. OF GRADS GRADS PCT. OF TOTAL PCT. CHANGE IN GRADS DISTRIBUTION OF CHANGE IN GRADS GINI COEFFICIENT
2017 2018 2017 2018 2018 2018 2017 2018
Employed – Bar Passage Required 23,936 23,922 69.6% 70.9% -0.1% 2.2% 0.34 0.34
Employed – JD Advantage 4,027 4,018 11.7% 11.9% -0.2% 1.4% 0.38 0.37
Employed – Professional Position 1,091 991 3.2% 2.9% -9.2% 15.6% 0.54 0.55
Employed – Non-Professional Position 399 346 1.2% 1.0% -13.3% 8.3% 0.55 0.63
Employed – Law School 604 515 1.8% 1.5% -14.7% 13.9% 0.79 0.80
Employed – Undeterminable 23 32 0.1% 0.1% 39.1% -1.4% 0.92 0.90
Employed – Pursuing Graduate Degree 535 480 1.6% 1.4% -10.3% 8.6% 0.52 0.55
Unemployed – Start Date Deferred 290 268 0.8% 0.8% -7.6% 3.4% 0.58 0.58
Unemployed – Not Seeking 441 387 1.3% 1.1% -12.2% 8.4% 0.52 0.53
Unemployed – Seeking 2,610 2,348 7.6% 7.0% -10.0% 40.8% 0.43 0.42
Employment Status Unknown 437 444 1.3% 1.3% 1.6% -1.1% 0.66 0.71
Total Graduates 34,393 33,751 100.0% 100.0% -1.9% 100.0% 0.29 0.30
EMPLOYMENT TYPE NO. OF GRADS GRADS PCT. OF TOTAL PCT. CHANGE IN GRADS DISTRIBUTION OF CHANGE IN GRADS GINI COEFFICIENT
2017 2018 2017 2018 2018 2018 2017 2018
Solo 438 368 1.3% 1.1% -16.0% 10.9% 0.58 0.59
2-10 5,771 5,485 16.8% 16.3% -5.0% 44.5% 0.33 0.34
11-25 1,694 1,731 4.9% 5.1% 2.2% -5.8% 0.42 0.41
26-50 998 1,050 2.9% 3.1% 5.2% -8.1% 0.45 0.45
51-100 800 850 2.3% 2.5% 6.3% -7.8% 0.48 0.46
101-250 977 1,016 2.8% 3.0% 4.0% -6.1% 0.51 0.48
251-500 1,003 957 2.9% 2.8% -4.6% 7.2% 0.64 0.63
501-PLUS 4,611 4,777 13.4% 14.2% 3.6% -25.9% 0.77 0.76
Unknown 96 99 0.3% 0.3% 3.1% -0.5% 0.85 0.87
Business Industry 4,149 3,841 12.1% 11.4% -7.4% 48.0% 0.36 0.36
Government 4,132 4,101 12.0% 12.2% -0.8% 4.8% 0.32 0.33
Public Interest 1,618 1,679 4.7% 5.0% 3.8% -9.5% 0.48 0.48
Federal Clerkship 1,171 1,190 3.4% 3.5% 1.6% -3.0% 0.69 0.69
State/Local Clerkship 2,048 2,130 6.0% 6.3% 4.0% -12.8% 0.58 0.58
Other Clerkship 25 27 0.1% 0.1% 8.0% -0.3% 0.92 0.95
Education 481 462 1.4% 1.4% -4.0% 3.0% 0.48 0.52
Unknown Employer Type 66 70 0.2% 0.2% 6.1% -0.6% 0.91 0.90
Total Employed by Type 30,078 29,833 87.5% 88.4% -0.8% 38.2% 0.31 0.31

In ’18, there were 642 fewer graduates than in 2017, a decline of 1.9 percent. By comparison, last year I reported a drop of 6.1 percent. Because the change in graduates is mild this year it’s not so easy to pick apart the data to identify clear trends. Nevertheless, the three biggest employment statuses contributing to the decline were: Unemployed – Seeking (40.8%), Employed – Professional Position (15.6%), and Employed – Law School (13.9%). The total here is 70.2 percent.

Changes among the employment types accounted for just 38.2 percent of the 642 fewer graduates, and the categories are quite polarized. Business Industry (+48%), 2-10-lawyer practices (+44.5%), State/Local Clerkship (-12.8%), and 501-plus-lawyer firms (-25.9%). That is to say, Business Industry jobs fell and clerkships rose, etcetera.

Here’s a link to my discussion of what Gini coefficients mean. They vary little year by year, so there’s not much of a reason to discuss them beyond the disgustingly out-of-reach federal clerkships.

Editorial: This year’s employment report is the first in a while that was a bit muddy because the graduate crash is leveling off. Still, it appears more grads were able to find jobs, those jobs were better overall, and law-firm jobs are shifting away from smaller practices to much larger ones. These are good trends in principle. Mostly though, I would hesitate to read too much into an employment report that differs so little from last year’s.

Similar editions of this post from prior years can be found here:

W&S Lawyer Employment Rises in 2018, Incomes Flat

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) usually completes its updates of its many measures of occupational employment for the previous year by April. Data for 2018 are now available, allowing a comprehensive summary of lawyer employment for that year. For detailed discussion of what the BLS datasets are and how they address lawyer employment, I recommend the lawyer overproduction page [updated!].

For context, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS), the number of people who reported working as lawyers in 2018 grew 5 percent to 1,199,000 (+62,000 people). The CPS also estimated 853,000 people working as lawyers on a wage or salary basis, a 9 percent rise from the previous year (+72,000 lawyers). By contrast, the more accurate Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program found that the number of wage-and-salary lawyers grew by 2 percent last year to 642,750 (+14,380 jobs). The number of employee lawyers in the legal sector also grew by 2 percent to 397,620 (+8,950).

Employee lawyers’ incomes were pretty much flat in 2018. The OES showed a -1 percent median hourly wage decline after adjusting for inflation, but the CPS registered no real change at all. Going by the OES, the last peak for lawyers’ earnings was 2009 (~$125,000 annually); incomes are about 9 percent lower (-$10,940) in real dollars since then. Here is an annualized dispersion.

These lawyer employment and income measures are not strong bellwethers for the value of legal education because they include many established lawyers and don’t measure recent graduate outcomes particularly well, especially those of graduates who do not promptly start careers in law. Readers seeking insight into that topic are instead advised to look at my criteria for predicting improvements in law graduate outcomes and the lawyer production page for a clear discussion of the BLS’s Employment Projections program.

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Prior editions of this post:

2017: Full-Time Law Students Paying Full Tuition *Rises* By 0.4 Percentage Points

Discussions of law-school costs are incomplete if they do not account for discounts some students receive, usually merit scholarships paid for by their full-tuition-paying classmates. To analyze the phenomenon of discounting, I focus on the ABA’s 509 information reports’ scholarship data. This information lags the academic year by one year, so as of the 2018-19 academic year, we now have data on 2017-18.

At the average law school not in Puerto Rico in 2017, the proportion of full-time students paying full tuition rose by 0.4 percentage points from 25.4 percent to 25.8 percent. At the median law school less than one quarter of students pay full tuition.

The proportion of students paying full tuition has fallen considerably over the years. At the turn of the century, more than half of students paid full cost; now about a quarter do.

At private law schools, which are easier to analyze because they don’t price discriminate in favor of resident students, the average number of students receiving grants ranging between half and full tuition again exceeds the number paying full tuition. Many more receive a grant worth less-than-half tuition, though their numbers are diminishing.

 

One advantage of knowing how many full-time students pay full tuition is that we can estimate the total revenue they generate for private law schools, except Brigham Young University, which charges LDS students less.

Since 2011, the peak year, inflation-adjusted revenue from full-tuition-paying full-time students has fallen 53 percent. Since 2001, the last year for which data are available, the drop is 32 percent. In 2017, the median private law school’s full-tuition revenue was $4.3 million, down from $12.8 million in 2011 but up 7 percent since 2016. In 2001, the median was $9.5 million. This is quite a decline.

So how substantially are private law schools discounting? The best way to answer that question is by using the sticker price at private law schools as the independent variable, and treating as the dependent variable their tuition after subtracting their median grant (median-discounted tuition “MDT”). First I divide private law schools into full tuition quintiles and give their mean averages. Then I take mean of the MDTs within each quintile.

We find that while full tuition inexorably climbs upward and disperses, the MDTs are trending downward and together, indicating significant discounting. Notably, the MDT at the most expensive law schools is about as much as full tuition at the cheapest private law schools.

That’s all for now; on to the shaming and ridiculing.

Raspberries: I’m giving out three raspberries to law schools for clearly misreporting scholarship data to the ABA:

  • Number 1 goes to Mitchell|Hamline for reporting 482 full-time students receiving scholarships out of … 473 full time students. Those -9 full-time students receiving breaks to their tuition must be truly exceptional. I should add that Mitchell|Hamline made the same mistake last year with only one full-time law student receiving a grant or scholarship in excess of its full-time enrollment. According to U.S. News it had 481 full-time students, which is still one short.
  • The second raspberry goes to Texas Southern for not reporting any median grant information. As a public law school it luckily doesn’t affect any of the above calculations, but it’s still lazy misreporting by a law school.
  • Finally, Regent also has 196 out of 195 full-time students receiving a grant or scholarship, for a truly blessed -1 full-time student. U.S. News has it at 218 for last year.

Honorary mention goes to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions for the Bar for discontinuing reporting full-time and part-time student enrollment each year. Leaving it to the grant and scholarship data means that there isn’t a good way to double-check law schools’ errors and discontinues a dataset it’s reliably collected for decades.

Information on this topic from previous years:

2018: Full-Time Private Law-School Tuition Up 3.1 Percent

Despite arbitrary data meddling by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and significant misreporting by law schools, I will estimate changes in annual (as in what people care about and what the ABA no longer collects) full-time law-school tuition for 2018. The appendix at the end of the post will summarize how I arrived at my tuition figures. However, I’m still disgusted by how the law schools and the ABA have handled this year’s data collection. On with the show:

Full-time tuition costs at private law schools not in Puerto Rico rose an average 3.1 percent before adjusting for inflation. The rate is about the same as last year’s increase, but it’s still well below the typical 5 percent rate before the Great Recession. For seven years now, the average increase has been below 4 percent. I focus on private law-school tuition because public law schools receive varying degrees of state subsidies, so they do not reflect the already distorted legal-education market’s prices.

Here’s what the inflation-adjusted dispersion of full-time private and full-time public (residential) tuition looks like going back to 1996:

For the last few years I’ve been eyeballing the 25th-percentile public law school’s residential tuition to see if it will rise above the annual Stafford Loan limit of $20,500. In 2018 it fell not even $200 shy of that symbolic line of unaffordability. By my estimates, 16 out of 117 private law schools charge more than $60,000. Ever the leader, Columbia was $84 short of charging $70,000. Next year it will likely have raised its costs by $20,000 in ten years.

In 2018, the median private law school charged $48,166 (DePaul); the mean was $48,383 (between John Marshall (Chicago) and Vermont).

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