Tuesday, August 23, 2011
How Inelastic is Demand for Law School? (Testing The Limits)
At Concurring Opinions, Gerard Magliocca (also a contributor to Balkinization) remarks, "Applications to law school are not going down much (or at all) notwithstanding the sharp increases in tuition and the decline of the job market. Demand for legal education seems relatively inelastic."
Great post Brian. It's interesting that the number of applicants was even lower during the mid-1990s than it is are now. I suppose that the dot.com boom explains that, though there were also fewer law schools then than there are now (I think).
I expect there to be - at a minimum - a several year lag between a drop in applications and enrollments. Unscrupulous law schools will reach further into the part of the applicant pool that is statitically unlikely to pass the bar until and unless they are forced to do otherwise by outside forces.
I'm not sure what explains the depth of the previous fall (There were about 20 fewer schools in the early 1990s). The application population can be roughly divided into two groups: people who always wanted to be a lawyer, and people who turn to law school when the overall job market is poor. This chart picks up the latter.
Where things will get interesting is when (if) demand in the former group falls sharply because price is too high relatively to expected return, even for those who always dreamed of legal careers. Some law schools will be in real trouble if that happens.
That raises your question. I don't have a specific answer yet, but I think schools at risk will have combination of these factors: high tuition ($40,000 range), location in a weak legal market, and low relative standing.
Schools like Cooley will be fine because they are nearly open admission. Schools that hope to maintain standards, however, will be squeezed if the total pool of applicants continues to contract. When there are fewer bodies to go around, some places must lose out.
I know we discussed whether the recent "enlightenment" will prove to have staying power: anecdotal evidence from conversations with my peers considering law school suggests public awareness is high. That, combined with the relatively weak uptick in applicants shown by this chart gives me hope that us 20 somethings are coming to our senses.
People don't leave because things are hard. People do leave because it's no longer worth it
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I just dont know about the demand for law school jobs folks.
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