According to the American Bar Association, there are currently 202 accredited law schools in the United States. However, the number of students going through the law school application process is steadily declining, which means there might be an excessive number of schools and programs. In 2004, 100,000 people tried to meet law school application deadlines to enter law programs, but in 2013, that number is expected to be around 54,000, or roughly half. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why this is happening, there are several factors that contribute to the trend.
Perhaps the main reason why fewer students are filling out law school applications is that, quite simply, there are not as many jobs available. Common perceptions might suggest that lawyers are always in demand, and it should be easy to find work as a legal professional. However, according to Spring 2012 ABA study, only 55% of law school graduates got a job that required a law license, and the average student absorbed about $125,000 in debt to earn their license. Quite simply, the math there does not add up, so the popularity of pursuing a law degree is fading.
In the past, law firms might have been willing to take the time to train new employees about the nuts and bolts of the legal industry. Because of that, according to Peter Cohan in Forbes, “Most law schools are stuck with the idea that law is a dignified profession with elegant theories that should be the principal focus of law school classes.” But today, law firms no longer want to pay to train employees, and want to hire people who can step in right away with an extensive knowledge base. This means that, if schools want to make sure lots of students are meeting law school application deadlines, they will have to adjust.
Today, in order to fight back against declining interest in their programs, some schools are changing or downsizing. Northeastern has focused on in-field training for a long time, and continues to emphasize that, while Stanford is putting more focus effort in hands-on training. Vermont reduced the size of its law school, mostly voluntarily, and the University of Illinois is trying to keep enrollment high by offering tuition discounts. Taking these measures, and using other techniques, like providing potential students with law school application help, might be necessary for programs who want to avoid shutting down completely.