Thursday, November 17, 2011
More Ominous Signs of the Coming Crunch for Law Schools
In June I wrote a post about the coming crunch for law schools, which asserted that law schools should anticipate a significant decline in the number of applicants in coming years. This will be especially problematic because law schools have substantially increased the size of their faculties in the past decade, making it hard to trim expenses to meet a decline in revenues. As the number of applicants falls, a significant proportion of law schools will experience a drop in the quality of students or a fall in revenue, and many will suffer both simultaneously.
That sounded harsh. What I really mean is what, if anything, can be done about this in the short term? I have a feeling schools know this, and will be making adjustments accordingly.
The most telling sign is the third one--and I doubt any law school was aware of it--because it shows a long term weakening of demand that kicked in before the legal recession and all the bad news about law schools.
As for what to do, every law school must do what its own particular position allows for. Some schools (HYS) won't be affected very much beyond a bit of tightening, while other schools will be hammered no matter what they do.
At the very least, any law school that is planning or engaged in an expansion of the faculty (several have announced this in recent years) would be wise to put it on hold. More generally, faculty expenses must be trimmed because that is the largest budget item aside from scholarships--but the latter will likely rise out of necessity (to fill the class).
This is very interesting, but another explanation for Illinois' move to give everyone a tuition break would be to gain some sort of competitive recruitment advantage -- not because they cannot fill their seats without it, but because it helps them compete with their peer schools for the students with high GPA/LSAT/other impressive credentials.
I find it hard to believe that Illinois truly has trouble filling its seats at any price [or, any price within current general norms], given that the vast majority of law school applicants are going to schools less prestigious than Illinois, and many of them are paying the same tuition or higher -- given those facts, I would guess that some non-trivial subset of all law school applicants would probably be thrilled to go to Illinois instead of where they are going. Thus, the problem for Illinois is probably not filling seats, but filling them with the students they want.
And that brings me to the question I have about this post, and which schools will be subject to these pressures. You point out that the factors you identify will affect different schools in different ways, and that the schools at the very top of the pecking order won't be affected much. But won't it be rather more stratified than that? It seems to me that the crunch you describe would be likely to affect the schools lowest in the pecking order in a much more dramatic way than it affects any other law schools. After all, any school with a couple of other lower-ranked law schools in its market, which charge similar tuition, ought to be able to respond to the pressures you describe, whenever they occur, by admitting more students who would otherwise have gone to those other, lower-ranked schools. I would think it is really only those schools, the ones at the bottom of their local pecking order, who might actually have trouble filling seats. Am I missing something?
I have a great idea for a blog dedicated to warning potential law students about the dangers of going to law school. It would be called "Admission Against Interest."
I'm inclined to agree with Joey's comment. I should add, though, that Indiana Tech is creating a new law school due to open in 2013. So at least somebody thinks that the market is good.
I agree with much of what you say, except for your suggestion that higher ranked schools will be free to take in more students. They too are competing, though not in the local market, but in the national market. And these schools cannot take the risk that their ranking cohorts will pull ahead of them by taking fewer students. We are all in a different niche (local factors matter a lot), but we are all competing intensely at our own level.
Was Joey suggesting that these schools would take in more students overall, or would fill any potential loss of students with students from lower ranked schools?
Great another post!!, I follow this blog with RSS and its great!
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What do you think this means for class of 2013-2014 graduates? Will a significant decline in law students in the next couple of years encourage firms to hire while the getting is good? Or is this just wishful thinking...
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