Normally we see a dip in overall law school admissions as a good sign.
While America has a shortage of lawyers available to bridge the justice gap, pumping out more graduates hasn’t proven an effective solution, with high-earning potential graduates serving the Biglaw sector and lower earners opting out of the law altogether in higher numbers because law school debt has outstripped salaries for jobs serving the most pressing legal needs. A law degree from a middling school is still an impressive line item for non-legal business gigs and if those offer the faster path to repayment, that’s where lawyers will flock.
Until the industry can get ahead of those circumstances, we’re generally in favor of reducing the number of people entering the workforce with crushing debt.
The fall admissions cycle is now done and LSAC reports that the surge in applications over the last few years has come to an end. Which makes sense to the extent the Trump administration fueled a chunk of that bump by inspiring a mini-generation to go to law school in hopes of protecting the Constitution… only to learn that the Constitution is just a bundle of hollow vibes at this point.
Here are the three-year figures:
That represents 430,349 applications from 62,624 applicants for 2022. In 2021, there were 70,904 applicants, meaning interested students are down 11.7 percent. Which — superficially — looks like the legal profession is about to suffer a dip.
On the other hand, it’s somewhat reverting to the mean. Putting aside the Trump bump, the 2021 figures were always going to be janky because of the applicants who opted out of joining the Zoom School of Law for the fall of 2020 and jumped in on the 2021 cycle. Some schools even leaned into overenrollment during this run.
So the three-year figures are difficult to work with since 2020 and 2021 were outliers in opposite directions. Take those out and 2022 is actually a booming year for law schools.
That’s above all the supposedly booming Trump years! Now, some of that may be more COVID deferments working through the system, but it would seem the fears of application drop-off might be greatly exaggerated.
Which means the fact that applications are “way down” from 2021 won’t have much impact on the next class.
So law school applications being down overall may not be a big deal. But where those applications are down may be a big problem for the industry long-term.
For one, the next crop of lawyers may not be as near the top of the academic crop as usual. Schools are seeing 14.2 percent fewer applicants scoring 170-180 and 13.8 percent fewer clocking in at 160-169. These dips are more pronounced than the loss of 120-159 group.
And for another, the diversity numbers took a serious hit this cycle.
Asian applicants are down -4.7%; Hispanic|Latino applicants are down -5.6%; Puerto Rican applicants are down -7.8%; Black|African American applicants are down -10.0%; American Indian|Alaska Native applicants are down -10.7%; Not Indicated are down -11.3%; Native Hawaiian|Other Pacific Islander applicants are down -12.5%; and Caucasian|White applicants are down -13.9%.
For a profession that’s already struggling to diversify at all levels, a pronounced decline in applicants of color is a big problem. And while white applicants also went down, the overall numbers are what matters. Coupled with a looming future where the Supreme Court strikes down diversity initiatives at schools, this might be one of the last classes that could’ve significantly increased representation within the profession for awhile.
So, yeah, applications are down. But get way more worried about the specifics than the top line.
LSAC Reports [LSAC]
The Fall 2022 Law School Admissions Season: Applicants Are Down 12%, The Most Among Whites (-14%) And The Highest LSAT Bands (-14%) [TaxProf Blog]
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
Leave a Reply