3 Reasons Behind Law School Downsizing Trend

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If you’re applying to law school, chances are there may be a smaller number of spots available in your class.

For the past several years, many law schools around the country have decreased the number of students admitted into JD programs, and the downsizing trend is only continuing. The University of Buffalo‘s Law School has recently announced that they will be shrinking the number of incoming 1-L’s from 225-200 to 200-180. The Dean of the school, Makau Mutua, stated that this move is necessary in order to maintain the school’s standards for its admitted students. The University of Buffalo Law School is by no means the only school that has made this decision. Other institutions such as Appalachian Law School, New England Law, and many more have also cut their class sizes. In total, last year 51% of law schools made a decision to downsize.

And it’s not just class sizes that are being cut: many schools are also trying to decrease the size of their faculty. The University of Buffalo’s Law School, for example, is beginning to offer retirement benefits to professors over 55, in order to decrease their faculty without having layoffs.

What is really interesting is that this trend has even reached the top tier schools. Last year, Northwestern University‘s School of Law declared it would decrease their class sizes by ten percent. It’s clear that this trend is affecting law schools in general, not just lower tier schools, which means that the factors that could be causing the downsizing of law schools are more universal in nature.

So what are some possible reasons that explain why law schools are choosing to downsize?

1. The number of individuals applying for Law School is decreasing.

The American Bar Association‘s report on the number of students enrolled in ABA accredited law schools show that the trend of declined enrollment in law school is continuing. 39,675 full and part time students enrolled in law school in the fall of 2013. This number marks an 11% decrease from 2012 and a 24% decrease from 2010, the highest year of enrollment. Data from last October also shows that the number of LSAT takers are also lower than in years past, and in fact the amount of individuals who took the LSAT decreased by 11% from the previous year. The number of LSAT takers has continued to decrease since the peak of administered tests four years ago.

With less overall students taking the LSAT and applying to law school, it is likely that there are less students applying that fit the credentials for specific schools. And with less students choosing to pursue a legal education and smaller class size, law schools do not have enough funding to maintain the amount of professors on their faculty and courses offered as in previous times.

2. There are still too many lawyers on the job market.

With an overcrowded job market for lawyers, less people are enrolling in law school, which contributes to many schools’ decision to downsize. According to the American Bar Association, only around 55% of all 2012 graduates found full-time legal work six months after graduation. There is possibility that more are employed in other kinds of work, but those jobs do not require their JD degree (that they spend so much time and money pursuing).

Adding to the problem of too many lawyers, the number of legal jobs also seems to be decreasing. Wharton professor Richard Shell explains that “Law firms — which have been the traditional employers — are having to revise their compensation and fee practices because clients are demanding more fixed price contracts and less billable hours.” Law firms have been one of the main sources of employment for legal grads, and if law firms are hiring less people, there will be more unemployed lawyers.

3. Schools are choosing quality over quantity.

Law schools don’t want to keep the same class sizes as in previous years if it means having to lower their standards of admission. Schools don’t want to admit applicants that would not have been as qualified in previous years simply to fill all vacant spots in their classes. This could potentially result in the law school receiving a lower rank, which is certainly undesirable.

Not only do law schools want to maintain the quality of their students, but they also strive to keep the quality of education. For example, Appalachian Law School explained that in deciding to downsize, the school wanted to maintain a 12 to 1 student to faculty ratio, something the school considers unique among other institutions.

With decreasing applicants, an overcrowded job market for lawyers, and the aim to maintain quality, it is no wonder that many law schools are making the hard decision to downsize. It will be interesting to see whether and how long this trend continues.

 [Bizjournals] [Wharton] [ABA] [ABA Journal] [Wall Street Journal] [Register-Herald]

Sarah Helden (@shelden430)

Sarah Helden
Sarah Helden is a graduate of The George Washington University and a student at the London School of Economics. She was formerly an intern at Law Street Media. Contact Sarah at



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