And, a Decade of Added Capacity
No Longer Needed?
Yesterday, I linked to the ABA report showing the drop in applicants who actually enrolled in law school in 2013. By one blogger's calculation, enrollment (average per law school) has not been this low since the late 1960s.
The ABA Journal reported:
Law school enrollments nationwide are down 11 percent this year from last year and 24 percent from 2010, new figures show.
The nation’s 202 ABA-accredited schools reported that 39,675 full- and part-time students were enrolled in a first-year J.D. program this fall, according to figures released Tuesday by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
That’s a decrease of 4,806 students from the fall of 2012, when 44,481 students began their law school studies, and a decrease of 12,813 students from 2010, when an all-time high of 52,488 first-year students were enrolled in an ABA-accredited school.(Emphasis added.) In a more recent article, the ABA explains that: "The last time enrollment was so low was in 1975, when 39,038 students were enrolled. And, at the time, there were only 163 ABA-accredited schools."
Since 1970, the ABA has accredited 53 new law schools of the current total of 202 ABA-approved J.D.-conferring law schools. It also granted provisional accreditation to four more schools (Belmont, La Verne, U. Mass-Dartmouth, and U. Cal-Irvine) in 2011 to 2013.
very public denial of its application for provisional accreditation by the ABA in a December 2011 order and a lot of negative blogger coverage here, here, here, and here.
The ABA began accrediting law schools in 1923. That year it approved 40 schools, including well-established private schools -- like Harvard, Yale and Washington & Lee -- and a number of state-sponsored law schools, many of which are associated with land-grant universities.
Too Much Capacity
I guess what I am trying to say is that the ABA approved a lot of law school "capacity" since 1970. In the last decade, it granted accreditation -- full or provisional -- to 16 law schools.
Assuming those 16 new schools expected to have a student population of about 300 law students, the ABA created capacity for 4,800 more students. Many of the new schools -- especially the for-profit schools, including Charlotte, Arizona Summit (formerly Phoenix), Charleston (soon to join the Infilaw family), and Atlanta's John Marshall -- hope to have substantially larger classes to meet their profit expectations.
Thus, the drop in enrollees seen just in 2013 wiped out the need for all the capacity added over the last decade. Current trends suggest that the ABA should not accredit any more law schools.
December 20, 2013 Update: Commentary on the current market situation for law schools here.
Dec. 21, 2013 Update: And this statement, nestled in a broader discussion of the revolution happening in the legal field:
If you want an example, take a look at law schools. You’re probably aware that applications to US law schools have been dropping like a stone and that enrolment is now down to itslowest level since 1977. As Bruce MacEwen notes (and as I’ve been saying for some time now), this story has only one ending: many American law schools will close or will become so small as to turn into veritable cottage businesses. There’s no question that there are too many law schools providing too little value to their students and to the clients they’ll someday struggle to serve, and that a major correction is overdue here. There’s also a lot of schadenfreude throughout the profession right now as these schools wriggle on the hook.
We can hope for and work towards a renaissance and reinvention of law school. But what if that fails? What if 80% of US law schools close and are not replaced? Will the profession and the public be well served by a legal education system that features Harvard, Yale, Stanford and a few other clones, and nobody else? Or what if the failed law schools are followed by profiteering private law degree factories that replace the passive academic lecture with cookie-cutter “practical training” packages bereft of jurisprudence and professionalism? I think this is an unlikely outcome. But it is a possible outcome — a possibility that didn’t exist 10 years ago, but does today.Jan. 1, 2014 Update: This National Law Journal 2013-in-review summary spoke to the issue of new law schools:
9. MORE NEW SCHOOLS
Think plummeting demand for a law degree would put the brakes on plans to open new schools? Think again. The Indiana Tech Law School in August opened the doors to its new $15 million building in Fort Wayne. The school didn't meet its initial enrollment goal of 100 students — the inaugural class comprises 32 — but its dean has expressed optimism about the future. Meanwhile, administrators at the University of North Texas at Dallas are moving forward with plans to open the long-discussed UNT Dallas College of Law next fall; the school is now accepting applications.Jan. 3, 2014 Update: Prof. Debbie Merritt offers here her assessment of whether existing law schools will close in light of the current fall off in applications to law school.