Too Many Law Schools, Not Enough Law Jobs

Too Many Law Schools, Not Enough Law Jobs

 

Though there are fewer jobs for attorneys and still fewer jobs that pay well, law school is more popular than ever as a career choice.  Many choose to matriculate based on their love of Law and Order, because their parents told them they should attend since they obviously love to argue, in order to supplement college degrees that don't lend themselves to lucrative job opportunities, or in hopes of avoiding the poor job market for a few more years.  The greatest indicator that interest in law school is increasing is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).  Administrations of the LSAT in the last year increased 13.3% with 171,514 students taking the test from June 2009 to February 2010, the largest increase since during the 2001-2002 recession.[1]  Law school applications are increasing accordingly: this year, Cornell Law School saw a 52% increase in applications.[2]

Law schools are taking advantage of the increased supply of potential students: many schools have increased their class sizes so that the increased tuition income will replenish their endowments, which plummeted in the economic downturn.  Stanford Law School increased its first-year enrollment by ten students this year, and first-ranked Yale Law School increased its enrollment by nearly 15% in 2009 as well.[3]  First-year enrollment overall continues to increase steadily and was 49,414 in 2008-2009.[4]  Finally, entirely new law schools are opening, many in geographic areas already served by several law schools.  From 2003-2009, at least eight new law schools opened their doors, and even more than that plan to open and seek accreditation in the near future.[5]  Though New York, for example, already has 16 ABA-approved law schools,[6] as many as three more are planned.[1]  The result is that practically anyone who is willing to pay the tuition or take out loans can be admitted to law school somewhere, regardless of his or her LSAT score, GPA, or the likelihood that he or she will be able to fulfill career expectations.

Overall, there are 200 laws schools with ABA accreditation, including nine with provisional accreditation.[2]  Many believe that the ABA should take a firmer stance in regulating new law schools, as since 1952 only 8 law schools have applied for but not received ABA accreditation.[3]  The ABA has cited antitrust concerns as their reason for refusing to block new schools and "rejected out of hand the possibility of giving up control over accreditation, calling the idea not viable and 'draconian.'"[4] 

Regardless of who is to blame, there are just too many law students.  "From 2004 through 2008, the field grew less than 1% per year . . . .  Taking into account . . . that the [Bureau of Labor and Statistics'] data is pre-recession, the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year," which is  "far fewer than what's needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year."[5]  Considering that enrollment increases each year and the number of new positions is certainly less after the recession, there are not enough jobs for the new lawyers law schools churn out.

 

[1] "Tests Administered Data," Law School Admissions Council, 2010, http://www.lsac.org/LSAT/tests-administered.asp.

[2] Liz Lawyer, "College applications surge at Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins Community College," The Ithaca Journal, March 10, 2010, http://www.theithacajournal.com/article/20100310/NEWS01/3100385/College-applications-surge-at-Cornell-Ithaca-College-and-Tompkins-Community-College.

[3] Law School Admissions Council, "Yale Law School," Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, 2009, http://officialguide.lsac.org/SearchResults/SchoolPage_PDFs/ABA_LawSchoolData/ABA3987.pdf; David Lat.  "A Yale Law School Degree: Not Worth What It Used To Be?" Above the Law, 16 April 2009, http://abovethelaw.com/2009/04/yale_law_increases_class_size.php.

[4] American Bar Association, "Enrollment and Degrees Awarded 1963-2008 Academic Years," http://www.abanet.org/legaled/statistics/charts/stats%20-%201.pdf.

[5] Leigh Jones, "A Deluge of Law Schools," The National Law Journal, June 2, 2008, http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202421786165.

[6] Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service and the Center for Pro Bono, "School Listings by State," February 3, 2010, http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/probono/lawschools/schools_by_state.html#newyork.

[7] Jones, "A Deluge of Law Schools."

[8] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Higher Education: Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access, December 7, 2009, 9, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1020.pdf.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mark Greenbaum, "No More Room at the Bench," Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2010, http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-greenbaum8-2010jan08,0,1467294.story.

[11] Ibid.

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.