A common source of confusion in discussions about the market for spots in law schools is that people mix up applications with applicants. The ratio of applications to applicants has been increasing for several years, probably because electronic applications are much easier to submit, and because a lot of applicants are getting savvy about demanding that application fees be waived, and law schools are complying.
This past year, 66,876 people applied to ABA-accredited law schools, which means that, if everyone who applied to law school and was accepted subsequently enrolled, about 25.3% applicants failed to get into at least one ABA-accredited school. But of course not everyone who applied to law school and was accepted ended up enrolling. If we assume ten percent of accepted applicants didn't end up enrolling that means only 16.7% of applicants didn't find a spot at an ABA school. (Update: Brian Tamanaha points out to me that the number I quoted was preliminary, and that the final number was 78,900.)
If law schools experience a drop in the applicant poll this year similar to the 11% decline we saw last year, we may well start nearing a point at which the number of applicants who actually enroll approaches or equals the total number of applicants. Naturally there are things law schools can do to deal with the declining demand for what we're selling: we could loosen admission standards, shrink class sizes, or even take the unprecedented step of lowering our prices. (The first radical visionary among law school deans who takes the latter step should be handed a Nobel Prize in Economics on the spot).
Speaking of which, classical economic analysis tells us that the size of the applicant poll should be a simple function of the expected return on investment in a law degree minus the opportunity costs of acquiring one. Of course it turns out that things aren't quite that simple, both because law schools have made it unnecessarily difficult for applicants to estimate a law degree's expected ROI, and because the "bounded rationality" of applicants turns out to be not very good at dealing with even the very suboptimal information they can reasonably be expected to acquire (For example people tend to overestimate the value of a law degree to themselves personally, even when they're fairly good at estimating what a law degree is likely to be worth in general).
Nevertheless, last year's application stats at least suggest that a larger amount of negative information is trickling down into the applicant pool. Something that would be good to know is: who exactly is being deterred by this information? Law school being law school, the complete absence of data regarding this matter has not deterred a certain amount of seat of the pants speculation presented as actual knowledge:
Kent Syverud, dean of the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where applications this year declined more than 11%, said it was a good thing prospective students now were more “clear eyed” about the risks and rewards of a law degree.
“The froth in the applicant pool—those who were just going to law school because they didn’t know what else to do and everyone told them it was a safe bet—is pretty well gone,” he said.
As a once-great writer once said, "isn't it pretty to think so?"
I really don't want to be rude, but this is the kind of thing that drives me a bit nuts about this business we've chosen. We are, after all, supposed to be academics, not salesmen or spin doctors. Dean Syverud doesn't know -- indeed how could he? -- what sort of people decided not to apply to law school this past year, or if the decline in applicants is a good or a bad thing in terms of the long-term career prospects of the students who ended up enrolling. No doubt some people aren't applying to law school now because they don't have any burning desire to be lawyers, and they're being deterred by the realization that it's a risky move (as they should be). But it's equally clear that some people who would love to be lawyers and would make great ones aren't going because law school has become unjustifiably expensive -- which means that unjustified expense is having harmful effects on the quality of law school student bodies, and therefore on the quality of legal services. What's the relative ratio of these sorts of non-applicants to each other? No one knows, but law faculty have a bad habit -- the product of what the French call a professional deformation -- of acting like they know things they don't. As Matt Leichter puts it:
How do law school deans know the motivations of those who choose not to apply to law school? (There’s a koan for you.) How many potentially brilliant legal minds have wisely chosen to avoid the floundering legal academy? Why should we believe that current applicants are nobler in their intents than those staying away? And why did law schools increase their enrollments 5% per capita between fall 2008 and fall 2010 when they knew or should’ve known that some of their applicants were merely trying to avoid unemployment?
Law schools want the public to think the evil, greedy prospective law students are staying clear. Instead, they should be worrying about when this applicant nosedive will affect their bottom lines.
Update: A commenter flags this example of law schools aiming to recruit more a more serious, less froth-like generation of applicants:
ATLANTA -- John Marshall School of Law in Atlanta has taken the act of applying to school and brought it into the new age of technology.
John Marshall has introduced a mobile application that allows potential students to apply for law school from the palm of their hand. Prospective students can visit m.johnmarshall.edu from their mobile device from their smart phone or their tablet to apply.
"We want students to be able to come to a law school forum, tour our campus, talk to us and apply immediately. If they have to wait until they get home and turn on a computer, they may not apply," Alan Boyer, Associate Dean of Recruitment and Marketing said in a statement released Monday.
Students who use their mobile device over the next few weeks to apply to John Marshall will also get a waiver of the customary $50 application fee.
Wishful thinking, self-interest and guilt are beautiful things Dean Syverud.ReplyDelete
"Kent Syverud, dean of the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where applications this year declined more than 11%, said it was a good thing prospective students now were more “clear eyed” about the risks and rewards of a law degree.ReplyDelete
“The froth in the applicant pool—those who were just going to law school because they didn’t know what else to do and everyone told them it was a safe bet—is pretty well gone,” he said."
Wow, way to call at least 11% of the people who applied to your school in previous years "froth" and to basically admit that studying at your school is no longer a "safe bet" if it ever was. And all of this being, anyway, pure speculation.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) opened its doors on July 21, but it will not have full authority to protect student loan borrowers and other consumers until it has a confirmed Director. The confirmation process has been delayed by Senators who have pledged to block any nominee until changes are made that would weaken the Bureau's ability to protect consumers and students. The Senate is now scheduled to vote this Thursday, October 6, 2011, on the confirmation of Richard Cordray as Director of the CFPB.ReplyDelete
Please act now to urge your senator to vote to confirm Richard Cordray to ensure that students have the protection they need from deceptive and predatory loan practices.
As Attorney General in Ohio, Richard Cordray was known as a strong, but fair, enforcer who worked on a non-partisan basis to protect the people of his state. His nomination has earned widespread support from Republicans, Democrats, business leaders and consumer advocates. In short, Cordray is an excellent candidate for Director of the Bureau.
Without a confirmed director, the CFPB does not have full authority to stop deceptive and abusive financial practices, including those involving private student loans. Tell your Senator to stop playing politics on this important issue and vote to confirm Richard Cordray without delay!
Posted this on Monday:ReplyDelete
From the WSJ article:
"We spoke to Wendy Margolis, a spokeswoman for the Law School Admission Council. The recent LSAT data, she said, suggests that law school applications likely will continue to decline in the near term. “I think until good press gets out there about the job situation for lawyers, this decline will likely continue.” But she concurs with the view of some law school admissions officers that the caliber of applicants has changed. “People who aren’t as Gung-ho about law school are dropping out of the application pool,” she said. “They aren’t just doing it, because they can’t figure out what else to do.”
Don't you just LOVE how they seemingly imply that the law students in the past didn't take law school seriously...and indirectly imply that the current economic fate of yesteryear's crop of law school grads is somehow tied to their lack of seriousness?
Total BS. These schools certainly weren't bitching about the perceived weaknesses and lack of dedication of these former graduates while they took their tuition money.
It seems to be lost on them that potential students are NOT gung-ho about what has become a well-established failure and poor investment.
The froth isn't gone.ReplyDelete
It's true that a sincere interest in law makes one less likely to be deterred. But, there's more things at play.
Rational people with a good sense of risk and reward, and a nose for research are more likely to be deterred, despite the fact that they'd make for better students and lawyers.
This entire new string of dialogue from the law school deans and LSAC concerning these newfound "serious, dedicated students" is COMPLETE BS. It is nothing more than a backhanded attempt at blaming the current economic blight upon recent graduates as some personal failing or lack of dedication.ReplyDelete
Yet they simultaneously gloss over the economic realities facing the profession. Will more dedicated student somehow open up more job opportunities in the future?? (NO!!!)
This is such tripe.
"Rational people with a good sense of risk and reward, and a nose for research are more likely to be deterred, despite the fact that they'd make for better students and lawyers."ReplyDelete
Law school has almost nothing to do with being a lawyer, let alone a good one, except that you have to go through it.
This statement by good old Kent:ReplyDelete
“The froth in the applicant pool—those who were just going to law school because they didn’t know what else to do and everyone told them it was a safe bet—is pretty well gone,”
Reminds me of this statement made in June of 2005:
The chairman of the Federal Reserve wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: There is no housing bubble. No sirree. What's going on in the overheating housing market right now is properly described as "froth."
"There do appear to be, at a minimum, signs of froth in some local markets," Alan Greenspan said.
Coincidence? I think not.
I doubt it's the people who are going because they don't know what else to do. Most likely it is people who are working a steady job at median pay 40-60K (which is a princely sum for an 18-30 y/o nowadays) with some room for advancement but that might not be seen as glamorous. I posted a similar comment in another thread; what we are seeing here is the devaluing of the profession in the eyes of the public. In a few years, people will no longer believe that law is a "profession," instead, it will become closer to a "career" or perhaps with the increase in temp work or part-time jobs with small practitioners, nothing more than a "job," that pays an hourly wage.ReplyDelete
Of course the ABA and law school deans and professors don't realize what a threat this is to the long-term viability of the profession. We remain in business because people believe they need lawyers for certain things and the law agrees with them. When I applied to law school, my father told me I'd be earning a valuable thing- a license. But when lawyers are not seen as something special, when they are just another class of white collar worker, the things that were once necessary may not be seen as necessary anymore. People will wonder why we keep paying these "workers" to do things that lower paid notaries or computer programs can do themselves. And when the public mindset shifts enough, courts and legislatures will start agreeing and rolling back some of their laws against unauthorized practice. And then we'll truly all be fucked.
But that's the mindset of the boomer generation, right? We took all the wealth, we're holding onto it (whether in the form of higher upfront costs to get credentialed, ridiculous pension benefits, or the trillions corporations and banks are holding right now that they should be investing) and we won't sacrifice, even a bit, for the younger generation and the future of this country.
If you are right that no one knows the reason for the drop off (and I think you are right) you do not know either. Your explanation is no more grounded than the dean's.ReplyDelete
If law schools experience a drop in the applicant poll this year similar to the 11% decline we saw last year, we may well be nearing a point at which the ratio of applicants who actually enroll is approaching the total number of applicants.ReplyDelete
Am I right in thinking that what you mean here is that law schools are approaching the point at which they will not be able to maintain full enrollment unless all applicants actually go on to enroll?
If you are right that no one knows the reason for the drop off (and I think you are right) you do not know either. Your explanation is no more grounded than the dean's.ReplyDelete
That's the point. Based on the evidence, it's just as plausible to claim that the best applicants are being weeded out as to claim that the worst applicants are being weeded out.
9:01: I think you're touching on a very serious long-term threat to the profession as a profession.ReplyDelete
9:04: I don't have an "explanation." I'm asking a question.
Lemuel: Edited for clarity.ReplyDelete
@9:01 I'm struck by the realization that the Baby Boomers are not so much a generation as they are a Biblical plague - a horde of locusts that descended on the United States of America, consumed everything and left nothing.ReplyDelete
The Greatest Generation may have been just that, but they sure sucked at parenting.
LP: 9:01 here. If someone could analyze exactly who are dropping out of the applicant pool (since the LSAC does have the data of every applicant) they could determine if we are losing people who are already in established careers. One article of faith in the future and prestige of the legal profession is how willing people with existing jobs are to leave their jobs and go into law. If I recall, LSAC does collect resumes or prior employment history in some form. This would be rather easy to do if the individual schools didn't want to do it, which I suspect they don't.ReplyDelete
The real story isn't the drop in applications, or the reasons for it. The reasons are too unknowable to be much of a story.ReplyDelete
No, the big take away should be the poor reasoning skills possessed by a law school dean.
"No, the big take away should be the poor reasoning skills possessed by a law school dean."ReplyDelete
But really, do we need an entire post on this well established fact?
Now this is ridiculous:ReplyDelete
"We want students to be able to come to a law school forum, tour our campus, talk to us and apply immediately. If they have to wait until they get home and turn on a computer, they may not apply," Alan Boyer, Associate Dean of Recruitment and Marketing said in a statement released Monday.ReplyDelete
Okay, I guess THOSE APPLICANTS are the more dedicated students law schools are trying to attract these days.
Do they give you a free Ginsu knife if you apply immediately?ReplyDelete
@ Law ProfReplyDelete
"No doubt some people aren't applying to law school now because they don't have any burning desire to be lawyers, and they're being deterred by the realization that it's a risky move (as they should be). But it's equally clear that some people who would love to be lawyers and would make great ones aren't going because law school has become unjustifiably expensive -- which means that unjustified expense is having harmful effects on the quality of law school student bodies, and therefore on the quality of legal services."
Those are declarative statements about the reasons for the drop. They are not questions.
10:19: Those are banal observations that nobody would bother to dispute. The crucial question is the ratio between the two groups of non-applicants.ReplyDelete
@9:01...I share your long-term fear.ReplyDelete
One thing I fear may be overlooked in this discussion is that others are watching this law school implosion. Business clients who are not lawyers are increasingly getting smarter about retaining law firms that task their work to first-year associates (i.e. Citibank). They too have learned that law school is becoming an overpriced and valueless exercise and are voting with their pocketbooks. My father's medical practice recently fired a law firm for running up a huge bill using young associates. My brother's steel producer did the same. I am sure many of these young associates came from well-respected "T-14" schools who were recipients of the "no-harm, no-foul" grade inflation approach.
Law schools simply do not realize that they are harming themselves in the long run by diluting devaluing their product...legal education. While they pump out so many graduates ill-prepared to practice, clients are wising up to the scheme. Someone needs to address this, as it will affect the entire profession (not just recent third tier graduates).
Well, you made the observations.And it is your judgment about their banality. I was just pointing out that you said that no one knows the reason for the drop, proceeded to berate someone who acted as if he did know, but then offered your own reason for the drop. You are right. The focus should be on the "ratio between the two groups of non-applicants" not bashing someone for doing something that you did yourself.ReplyDelete
In the OP I made clear that I didn't know what Syverud claimed to know, but you continue to ignore that.ReplyDelete
No,you just claimed to know something else: that the drop off is the result of people recognizing the risks of law school and that it has become too expensive for people. You could be dead right. But as you said when assessing Syverud's reason for the drop off, no one really knows. That's all.ReplyDelete
Hah, and the first I really got a look at the law school scam outside of the NYT piece on the topic was when I was working a $9/hr temporary job alongside a recent John Marshall grad. She was sitting the GA Bar for the second time in February; I never heard if she made it or not. She was hoping to start a small practice with someone she'd met at law school. It was weird how touching her faith in her law school was - she urged other people who were thinking about grad schools to apply there, but they hadn't even equipped her to pass the bar exam and she was having to study her ass off by herself for her second attempt, just in the hope of founding a small business. She said she had $80k debt. What the hell was the point?ReplyDelete
How long until schools hire strippers and a full bar during recruiting events, before presenting students with the application?ReplyDelete
10:33 (9:01 here) Maybe they do realize it, but they do not want to make the sacrifice to their own careers in order to sustain the profession. Somebody, whether it is a coalition of deans and professors from higher-ranked or cheaper schools or middle-aged practicing lawyers who will still be around when the profession finally collapses, will need to step up here. It doesn't look like applicants will get the message anytime soon.ReplyDelete
That story above about the app is disgusting. The dean is literally saying he wants law school to be nothing more than an impulse buy. They are no better than used car salesmen. Why established attorneys aren't outraged about this speaks volumes about how little pride we have in our profession.
So. . . students shouldn't make a careful analysis regarding whether they apply to law school, and take on the attendant debt?ReplyDelete
That admissions dean is worse than a common criminal. If the law can't protect unknowing individuals from that vile person, what good is it?
Look at this scene in NY. Young people aren't taking this shit anymore.
My educated guess is that it will decline more dramatically this year. Probably another 20% on top of last year's decline.ReplyDelete
And lowering the price will not do anything to help. For a while, people have been enrolling based on the theory that the debt would take care of itself magically. That illusion is coming undone.
Dropping tuition from $41,000 to, say, $38,000 will not put the genie back in the bottle either. Once people start thinking with clear eyes (and clear information), tuition will have to return to around $20,000 for people to consider this venture realistic.
In all seriousness, I think we're looking at a 50% decline in total enrollment over the next two years.
I'm gone to say to my little brother, that he should also go to see this blog on regular basis to obtain updated from hottest reports.ReplyDelete
Feel free to surf to my page :: payday loans bad credit
Heya i am for the first time hеre. I founԁ this boaгd and I find It tгulyReplyDelete
useful & it hеlped me out a lot. Ι hope to
gіve something baсk and aіd otheгѕ like you aided me.
Also ѵіsit mу homepage;
how to lose weight
Also see my site :: how to lose weight