Law Schools Face New Challenges As Enrollment Declines

by Mike Mintz on August 16, 2012 · 4 comments

in Legal News and Trends,

If you went to law school before the recession, I have bad news for you. If you are first contemplating going to law school now, I have good news for you.  The news? It is much easier to get into law school these days.  As a result of the recession, there has been a drop in law school applications which has made admission much easier for prospective law students.

Law schools are none too happy about this.  In fact, many have resorted to offering across-the-board generous scholarships to attract students. University of Illinois College of Law is a case in point. Every single member of the class of 2014 received a scholarship.

Some law schools are accepting applications long after the formal deadlines have expired and they are offering all sorts of scholarships and perks to entice highly qualified prospective students.  Law schools admit that the new landscape represents uncharted territory for them.

The decline in enrollment can be traced back to the 2009-2010 period when law firms started laying off attorneys in droves when demand for their services shrunk.  While hiring has recovered somewhat since then, it has not returned to the pre-recession levels.

Now that law school applications have plummeted, students are sitting in the cat bird seat.  They are fighting back against tuition figures and are pressing for scholarship offers.  They have become much more vocal about what they want the law schools to give them in return for enrolling with a particular school.  Schools are now more likely to actually listen to students’ demands.  Indeed, the UCLA School of Law sent a letter to admitted students actually encouraging them to bargain.  One such letter read in part “We very much hope you find this offer competitive with others you have received … Please let us know.”

The dean for admissions at UCLA Law School admitted that it is a competitive market and that the students will be faced with deciding from competing offers.  UCLA is hoping to encourage dialogue with the students which will lead to acceptance of UCLA’s offer.

Another example of bargaining comes from George Washington University Law School which sent an e-mail to prospective students which lists information about scholarships being received from other schools and explaining that this is part of the criteria for setting its own scholarship amounts.

The strategy behind the law schools’ offering of scholarships on a case-by-case basis is that it allows them flexibility with the students while still allowing them to keep official tuition levels high.

In fact charging a lot for that fancy law school degree is considered a sign of prestige by the legal industry.

In the past ten years alone, the amount of scholarship money awarded to students has almost tripled, according to the ABA.  In 2008-2009 alone, law schools gave out almost $1 billion in scholarships. In 2011-2012, the scholarship figure has exceeded the $1 billion mark.

Notwithstanding the decline in law school applications which results in the need to offer more scholarships, law school tuition rates are, quixotically, on the uptick. Even public state schools are increasing their tuition rates by almost 10% to $22,116 which represents a 1000% increase in law school tuition levels since 1985.

Even when law schools officially deny negotiating on scholarships, they have quietly done so to land talented students. A case in point—a prospective student to Brooklyn Law School initially received an offer of $23,000 in scholarship moneys. However, within a week of notifying Brooklyn Law that he had been wait-listed at a different law school, Brooklyn Law doubled the scholarship offer. He accepted Brooklyn’s offer.

This only represents part of the picture, though. The top law schools do not offer extra enticements to attract students. Let’s face it—they don’t have to. Their name and the prestige attached to their name is enough to attract the top students.  One student recently tried negotiating with Columbia Law School for a better deal than he received from Duke University School of Law. He was not successful—Columbia turned him down flat.

Another reason for law schools’ interest in attracting top students has to do with the all-powerful annual law school rankings published by U.S. News & World Report which takes into account the grade-point average and LSAT scores of students.  As a result, even Ivy League law schools such as Cornell and Vanderbilt are allowing students with high enough marks to send in their applications late, way past the official deadline.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

dominique wilson wrote onAugust 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Law School – which schools should I apply to – I have a 3.0 average and my LSAT was a 146. I do plan to retake test in Dec. I do have 8 years in paralegal experience.


Mike Mintz Mike Mintz wrote onAugust 22, 2012 at 10:04 am

Hi Dominique,

I’m not really sure what the current standards are for admission, but generally you should be able to get that information with a little searching. There are a number of schools that would admit someone with your experience and you need to look at what the minimum requirements are for accepting applicants. Good luck on your retaking of the test.



Steven J Fromm wrote onAugust 16, 2012 at 10:59 am

This is all great but these law students cannot escape the realities of debt after graduation and limited prospects for employment. In Philadelphia, there are so many attorneys and so many who cannot get jobs or are working in other industries. The supply and demand situation is just not in the favor of newly minted or soon to be so lawyers. They need to take pause before applying even with the financial incentives now being offered.


Mike Mintz Mike Mintz wrote onAugust 22, 2012 at 10:07 am

You are preaching to the choir Steven. I’m a lawyer turned marketer (more by choice than anything else), but have found many more opportunities outside of the law. Since I am self-taught in social media and marketing, do I think paying 6-figures for my law degree was a waste of money? Not completely – it has opened doors for me that would have been closed without it even though I am not working as a lawyer. That being said, perhaps there were cheaper routes I could have taken. Anyone considering a law degree should be realistic about the fact that they will not graduate into a 6-figure job that pays back the debt quickly and have a smooth rise to the top.


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