Fewer Law School Applicants Due To Lack Of Jobs, High Tuition

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Capital University has been receiving less applicants over the last couple of years, following a national trend.(Photo: Debbie Holmes / WOSU)
Capital University has been receiving less applicants over the last couple of years, following a national trend.(Photo: Debbie Holmes / WOSU)

As students return to class, there are fewer law students in the lecture halls. Law schools across the country report close to a 20 percent drop in the number of applicants this fall. The lingering recession, staffing cuts at law firms, and the rising cost of a law degree get the blame for the decline.

It can cost more than $100,000 to earn a law degree. Twenty-three year old Brandon Edwards says that was too much when he thought about attending law school full time at the University of Cincinnati. So he decided to stay home in Columbus and attend Capital University’s law school.

“I’m working full time for the public defender this year and going to class at night, so all those things combined, the goal is to get out debt free or with very minimal debt,” says Edwards.

During the recession, the demand for new lawyers dropped. Many firms laid-off attorneys. As a result, prospective lawyers are thinking twice. The Law School Admission Council tracks enrollment. The council’s Wendy Margolis says this fall schools can expect a 19 percent drop in applications leaving some 58,000 applicants across the country. That’s about 30,000 fewer applicants than there were just three years ago.

“It’s definitely related to the economy. It’s also related to the amount of debt that students are incurring both in undergraduate school and in graduate pursuits, and it’s very expensive to go to college and to law school these days,” says Margolis.

Dean of Capital University’s law school, Rich Simpson says he expects about 160 law school students enrolled this year. That is a drop of more than 100 students during peak enrollment 9 years ago. He says while the economy is partially to blame, law firms are also changing. Simpson says some firms outsource their work overseas at a cheaper cost, so they can reduce their staffs.

“Lawyers trained in the United States for $100 an hour can now be done by lawyers in other jurisdictions for $20 an hour and the work turned around electronically and it appears on your desk at 9 o’clock in the morning the next day,” says Simpson.

Simpson says advancements in technology also mean fewer law jobs because much of the legal research can be done online.

At Ohio State, Dean of the Moritz College of Law, Alan Michaels says his school’s enrollment is down about 20%.Moritz College of Law

“There was a great recession of course starting in 2008, and that had a very large impact on the legal market. Demand for legal services which had had a very long period of very robust growth actually dropped,” says Michaels.

OSU’s law school tuition has risen. It now stands at $28,000 a year, not including books and supplies, and living expenses. Michaels says Moritz is giving out more scholarships.

Law schools are also working harder to get students real experience.

Dean Michaels says OSU actively helps students gain more work experience through corporate internships while they’re in school, so they can be ready when they graduate to work in the legal field.

“Most companies don’t generally hire new lawyers right out of law school. Instead they take people 8 to 10 years out, who already know how to do something,” says Michaels.

At the private Capital University tuition costs about $34,000 a year. Dean Rich Simpson says despite changes in the law profession, if someone wants to work as a lawyer they should go for it.

“Today is probably a really good time to go to law school because the class sizes are so much smaller that you’re going to be competing with so many fewer graduates when you do graduate 3 or 4 years from now,” says Simpson.

And OSU’s Dean of the Moritz College of Law, Alan Michaels says those who have the passion for law should not be discouraged.

“When a young lawyer or a prospective lawyer comes to me and says should I go to law school, what I tell folks is if you want to be a lawyer and have the opportunity to go to an elite law school like Ohio State you absolutely should go and you will find a pathway,” says Michaels.

A majority of the OSU law grads in 2012 did find jobs in law or about 88 percent in a position requiring passage of the bar exam or where a law degree is an advantage. At Capital the figures were about 72 percent for those who found law related jobs.

  • Steven P

    The deans are paid to sell the law school to prospective students. You might as well ask GM if now is a good time to buy a car.

  • Barry_D

    ‘Where a law degree is an advantage’. That sounds like a loophole through which I could drive a truck, and I’m not a lawyer.

  • BarbaraSeville

    “. . . an elite law school like Ohio State . . .”

    Do me a favor.