Over at Above The Law, Kyle McEntee has a helpful summary of new ABA data on law school enrollment. A couple takeaways:
1. Enrollment is down a little, and that could be big.
McEntee notes that first-year enrollment is down 29.4% since 2010. That doesn’t really mean much because 2010 was when enrollment peaked. But he also notes that enrollment is down 2.2% from last year. This actually is significant because a lot of people thought that last year, or at least the last few years, represented rock bottom. The latest decline also comes at a time when the job market for lawyers is relatively decent and the U.S. economy overall is doing OK. This suggests that the decline in enrollment is partly or mostly due to people waking up and realizing that a law degree is not a golden ticket, and is, at many schools, a terrible investment.
2. Enrollment declines are always good news, but we’ve got a long way to go.
Here’s a nice chart showing that in the United States in 2013, 44,253 people graduated from ABA-accredited law schools, and there were 20,860 openings for jobs as lawyers. These numbers fluctuate from one year to the next, but there are always tens of thousands more graduates than job openings. Those of us who want law graduates to have a good chance–well above 50/50–of obtaining full-time employment as practicing attorneys should cheer any decline in enrollment, but obviously a 2.2% decline does not come close to closing the supply-demand gap in the market for the services of recent law grads.
3. Law schools will do anything to stay in business, but we already knew that.
[M]any law schools have made the choice to enroll students who face significant risk of failing the bar exam. In this sense, dozens of law schools did not cut enrollment enough. Had they, many would close down due to a lack of paying customers.
As always, the message from these bottom-feeding schools is, “screw the students, let’s keep taking their money so we don’t have to find new jobs.”