…Is the topic of my latest article on The American Lawyer.
The LSAC was oddly slow putting up December LSAT data, but that’s okay because I have little to say about it. The number of LSAT takers has grown for five consecutive testing periods, but things slowed down this time.
29,115 people took the LSAT in December, up a mere 1.9 percent over last year. The four-period moving sum grew a mere half a percent to 105,940.
I have no insight into whether this slowdown means anything or is just a blip. I’ll speculate after the February or June administrations.
Facing shrinking law-school enrollments, many law schools have responded by reducing their faculties. The phenomenon is worth measuring because faculty reductions aren’t always announced publicly, often appearing in the guises of retirements and quiet buy-outs. Consequently, the ABA’s 509 information reports can shed light on changes in law-school faculties. Here’s the cumulative distribution up until 2015.
As with last year, I will estimate the decline in fall full-time law-school faculties among the 202 law schools that aren’t in Puerto Rico. The peak for full timers occurred in 2010 (9,093), but that estimate includes the “other full-time faculty” category (clinicians and legal-writing instructors, if I recall), which the ABA no longer tracks independently. The ABA removed that category last year, so at least the 2015-to-2014 comparison will be consistent.
Fall full-time faculty fell by only 3.1 percent this year (-249). Last year the decline was 7.8 percent (-690), indicating a remarkable improvement. Since 2010, the cumulative decline has been 13.3 percent.
Here is a table of law schools ranked by net change in full-time faculty since 2010 and smallest faculty size in 2010. Trivial annual changes may not represent staff reductions and might be attributable to other factors.
|FULL-TIME FACULTY (FALL)|
|RANK||SCHOOL||’10||’14||’15||ANNUAL CHANGE||NET CHANGE|
|2.||Penn State (Dickinson Law)||57||47||19||-28||-38|
|6.||John Marshall (Chicago)||75||56||45||-11||-30|
|10.||Arizona Summit [Phoenix]||32||15||7||-8||-25|
|15.||New York Law School||71||57||48||-9||-23|
|25.||Western New England||36||22||18||-4||-18|
|42.||Atlanta’s John Marshall||35||35||22||-13||-13|
|44.||Lewis and Clark||53||47||40||-7||-13|
|62.||North Carolina Central||42||37||31||-6||-11|
|74.||Arkansas (Little Rock)||30||23||21||-2||-9|
|75.||Washington and Lee||35||36||26||-10||-9|
|96.||Case Western Reserve||47||33||41||8||-6|
|100.||St. Thomas (MN)||29||23||24||1||-5|
|117.||District of Columbia||21||20||18||-2||-3|
|136.||Missouri (Kansas City)||34||30||33||3||-1|
|146.||Texas A&M [Wesleyan]||30||26||30||4||0|
|171.||St. Thomas (FL)||28||32||30||-2||2|
|174.||New York University||151||154||153||-1||2|
|181.||William and Mary||39||49||44||-5||5|
|198.||Massachusetts — Dartmouth||17||15||-2||15|
|201.||Penn State (Penn State Law)||35||35||35|
I believe this is the last topic I regularly cover based on the annual release of the 509 information reports. You can read my past posts for the 2015-16 academic year here:
Last year, I modified the Lorenz curve to measure the distribution of full-time law-school applications. A Lorenz curve measures the cumulative distribution of a quantity in order from the smallest recipient to the largest. Usually it’s 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 at the time that they apply.
The Lorenz curve can also be used to calculate the Gini coefficient, which is the area under the Lorenz curve divided by the total area of the right triangle representing a totally equal distribution of the quantity among the recipients.
I found last year that full-time application inequality had risen noticeably between 2009 and 2014. The Gini coefficient had shifted from 0.37 to 0.42, and the top 50 law schools captured half of all full-time applications—up about 5 percentage points from 2009. Finally, freestanding private law schools, and even among them for-profit law schools, lost only a small share of applications.
Repeating the analysis for 2015, the application distribution appears essentially unchanged.
If you can’t distinguish the 2015 Lorenz curve from the 2014 curve, that’s a feature, not a bug. The Gini coefficient rose from 0.427 to 0.429. Additionally, any shift in applications in favor of lower-ranked law schools, namely the 51-100s, is due in part to volatility and ties within the rankings. In fact, holding the rankings constant, law schools ranked 51-100 in 2014 saw only a 1 percent gain in application share in 2015, but the top 50 were largely unchanged.
I predicted interest in law school to become more unequal this year, but surprisingly it didn’t. Instead, there was a trivial shift in applications toward lower-ranked schools. Consequently, although the number of full-time applications fell 4.2 percent in 2015, the overall impact was felt proportionately among law schools. Notably, U.S. News‘ static top-14 law schools accounted for 40 percent of the total decline in full-time applications—in contrast to its ten percent gain against the application decline last year.
I interpret all this as mildly good news for law schools: Interest in legal education still fell, but the perception that non-elite law schools offer little to applicants appears to have softened. However, that might be little comfort to law schools whose budgets are deep in the red.
That’s the most reasonable analysis one can make of the ABA’s Standard 509 Information Reports, which appeared on the Internet on December 15th.
Before the fun a few preliminaries:
I haven’t parsed all the spreadsheets, but some contain similar bizarreness. Hopefully, no one who has reported on the data already has committed any errors as a result.
In the 2015-16 academic year, there were 32,595 full-time matriculants to 205 ABA-accredited law schools, down 850 matriculants from 2014-15. That year saw a 1,228-matriculant decline, so the crunch is slowing down for the law schools. (These figures exclude the three law school in Puerto Rico, as I usually do.)
Full-time applicant acceptance rates are largely flat, except at the 90th percentile.
Matriculant yields are up slightly as well (omitted), but ultimately about 26 law schools account for half of the decline in matriculants since the last trough year, 2007, which I believe is a better comparison year than 2010, which was a peak year.
Meanwhile, application growth rates are still accelerating.
Nearly a quarter of law schools saw a growth in applications. First place goes to Lincoln Memorial (124.1 percent), rising like an undead menace despite the ABA’s initial denials of accreditation. Number two, which I think is fair to report given that Lincoln Memorial was only recently accredited, is Denver at 56.7 percent. I’m not quite sure how it pulled that off.
Last year, I discussed at length how U.S. News‘ top-twentyish law schools saw an unusual bounce in applications. Curiously, that phenomenon has been blunted. Last year the top fourteen received 72,769 applications, but this year they hauled in 66,982—the lowest since 2000, which was back when paper applications were all the rage. I hypothesized that would-be applicants believed that no one was applying to elite law schools, so their applications would succeed. Maybe that was right, maybe not, but regardless, I’m stumped as to why the application decline resumed for these schools.
Consequently, I haven’t seen any real surprises from the application data yet, but there’s more stuff to comb through, so stay tuned.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its employment projections for the next cycle: 2014-2024.
In 2014, the BLS estimated that there were 778,700 lawyer positions (as opposed to discrete lawyers) in the United States. This figure includes self-employed lawyers. In 2012, the Employment Projections Program found 759,800 lawyer positions, so there has been some growth. According to the Current Population Survey, in 2014, 1.132 million people worked as lawyers in the United States. The discrepancy between the CPS and the EPP 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 a significant role in the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Here is an illustration, from various sources, of law-school graduate and lawyer growth since the 1980s.
Between 2014 and 2024, the BLS estimates a total 157,700 net lawyer jobs will be created. Of those, only 43,800 can be attributed to economic growth over the decade. The rest, 113,900, consist of net occupational replacements. Last year, I wrote about how the BLS plans to revise its replacement methodology, switching from a net replacement measurement to a gross one. When applied to lawyers, it appeared more jobs would be created annually than under the current methodology. The BLS has not yet adopted the new methodology.
Unfortunately—and despite my warnings—some law professors concluded that a higher replacement rate meant better job prospects for law school graduates. However, this position fails to account for turnover—the rate at which lawyers leave the law for different occupations or leave the labor force entirely. In fact, in a prototype analysis of the new methodology, the BLS estimated that over ten years one lawyer in four would move to a different occupation. By comparison, the rate for physicians was only 15 percent. It is unlikely that every lawyer moving to a different occupation will find work in a field that requires the skills and knowledge obtained in law school or pays accordingly.
The BLS typically divides the ten-year employment projection by ten, suggesting that only 15,770 lawyer positions will be created each year until 2024. Despite falling law-school enrollments, but with the number of applicants possibly rising, it does not appear that the economy will be able to absorb all new lawyers completing law school. Indeed, in 2014, 43,800 people graduated from ABA law schools, but it’s likely that fewer than 40,000 graduated in 2015. The number of people admitted to the bar by admission and diploma privilege—a measure of new lawyer growth—was 54,820 in 2014, but this includes many duplicates.
The number of law school graduates and new bar admits far exceed the projected lawyer job growth rate. Consequently, it appears that although interest in law school has waned, far more people are attending law school than the profession can employ.
My opinions of J.D. advantage jobs can be found here.
My comprehensive explanation of the various measures of law-school grads and lawyers can be found on this page. It also should contain any links I may have omitted in this post.
Like the lost, fictitious island of Atlantis, the LSAC’s first report of the 2016 law-school application cycle predicts an applicant rise! At 13,881 applicants as of week 48, it appears more than 55,500 people will apply to law school next year.
Importantly, the LSAC has changed its reporting from fall-term applicants only to applicants for all academic terms. I don’t like changes like these as they impair past comparisons, but it’s probably the right thing to do. It’s unclear when the 2016-17 academic year begins, so I’ll try to treat these concepts with caution until I’m sure.
As it is, in week 48 of 2014, there were 11,415 applicants for the fall term, so a substantial number of people are now being included who were not before, more than 2,000 applicants apparently. What is notable is the difference between the number of applications per applicant.
For fall 2015: 6.13
For all 2016: 5.36 (approx.)
For all 2016: 5.12
In fact, according to the current report, applicants are up slightly for 2016, but applications have fallen by 4.1 percent. Although final predictions based on the first reported week are volatile, these numbers suggest that while some people might believe now is the best time ever to go to law school, they don’t believe it for all law schools. I’ve posited that the distribution of applications matters too and will continue to do so going forward.
Here are links to my past reporting on the opening of the applicant horse race: November 2013 and November 2014, both predicting applicant declines that didn’t pan out. In both those years, the final applicant count rose above the initial projections, meaning that the number of applicants “accelerated” into the cycle. Here’s an illustration starting in January of the application year:
(Note: This is based on old LSAC data that applies to the fall term only.)
Over the last three years, a growing proportion of applicants didn’t apply until later in the cycle. If this phenomenon continues, i.e. back-loading applicants, then we can expect more than 55,500 total applicants by fall 2016.
I’m not sure why applicants are appearing later than the in past. It’s possibly due to law schools moving their application deadlines further back to capture more bodies and those applicants obliging. Alternatively, the applicant crash that started in 2010 might have affected the earlier chunk of the application cycle. In other words, the type of people who chose not apply to law school are the ones who would’ve first applied in November-January.
Between back-loading applicants, rising applicants, and falling applications, this cycle might throw us some curve balls.