Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Progress report

A great deal has happened over the past ten months.  This post is an update on developments, and an opportunity for members of the old ITLSS community to touch base with each other, and to perhaps learn of other venues where the conversation continues.

Major developments:

(1)  As word regarding the employment situation for new and not so new law graduates percolates down into the general cultural conversation, law school enrollments and applications continue to decline sharply.  39,675 students matriculated at ABA schools this fall -- a 24.4% decline since 2010, and the lowest total since 1975, when there were 40 fewer law schools.

(2) Application totals continue to fall faster than law school enrollments.  Preliminary numbers suggest that around 51,000 people will apply to law school in this cycle, which in turn is likely to produce another 10-12% decline in enrollments next fall.  Even if enrollment numbers level out over the next couple of years, ABA law schools are about to face a world in which they will have 95,000 to 100,000 JD students enrolled at one time, as opposed to nearly 150,000 in 2010-11.

(3) Most law schools now appear to be losing money, and law school budgets almost everywhere will undergo even more severe stress as the entering classes of 2011 and 2012 are replaced by much smaller cohorts over the next two to three years.

(4) The stress on budgets is a product not just of declining enrollment, but also of what at many schools is declining per capita real net tuition.  A few schools have actually started to slash nominal tuition, and many others have increased "scholarships" (tuition discounts) to such a degree that they are charging lower tuition in real terms (discount and inflation adjusted) than they were two years ago.  The combination of declining enrollment and stagnant or declining per capita real tuition has created formal and de facto hiring freezes at many schools.  Entry-level hiring this year seems likely to be at around one third to one half of pre-enlightenment levels.

(5) Although schools are going to extraordinary measures to disguise the fact, faculty layoffs have taken place at several places, in the form of offer you can't refuse "buyouts."  Staff firings are commonplace.  It remains difficult to say when and if an ABA school will actually close, but expect to see some schools merge (constructive closures), and a couple of others spin off separate campuses into independent entities which will be allowed to disappear by their central administrations.

Beyond these specific developments, it's fair to say that the general atmosphere in legal academia is radically different than it was three years ago.  Back then, the crisis was invisible, because it was only affecting our graduates, which meant there were an almost unlimited number of rationalizations available for denying its existence.  (It's a few malcontents, it's the recession, law degrees are versatile, network! etc. etc.).  As always, we are all strong enough to bear other men's misfortunes, but to cut one's own finger is a different matter.

In short, consciousness has been raised, and continues to be raised.  For those who may have missed it, here are two new sites that are doing some fine work:

Outside the Law School Scam

Law School Truth Center

For a dire but compelling glimpse into how much work remains to be done, see:

Law School Lemmings

Older sites everyone should read regularly include, but are not limited to, Law School Tuition Bubble, Law School Cafe, Third Tier Reality, and JD Underground

I'll continue to write on these issues at Lawyers, Guns & Money, and elsewhere.  See you around.