Law Degrees Are Losing Their Appeal

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According to the Law School Admission Council, the organization that administers the Law School Admission Test or LSAT, the number of tests it administered this year dropped over 16 percent, the largest decline in over 10 years.

The LSAT was given 129,925 times in the current academic year, a substantial drop from 155,050 tests last year and well below the peak of 171,514 two years ago. The number of test takers has dropped almost 25 percent in the last two years.

There is a growing opinion that the market for new lawyers is historically bad and will be unable to absorb approximately 45,000 new lawyers per year for the next three years. The problem may represent a systemic downward shift.

Other trends exacerbate the problem. Technology enables low level legal work to be done overseas, and corporations aren?t just paying legal invoices but are demanding more accounting from the firms they hire.

Many law school graduates begin their careers with an enormous amount of debt. The conventional wisdom used to be that law school was a good investment because a healthy income was at the end of the journey. That is no longer a safe assumption. Getting high grades at a good law school no longer guarantees a six-figure job on graduation.

Some blame law schools themselves for the problem. Recently there have been class-action lawsuits against over a dozen law schools, alleging that people were enticed into applying based on allegedly inflated estimates of job opportunities. Even if the suits are unsuccessful, the negative public relations will be a continuing problem, especially for schools on the lower rung.

Lower ranked schools depend heavily on tuition without the huge endowments of the prominent schools. Fewer applicants mean fewer students. Fewer students means fewer classes and a smaller faculty. The other choice for lower rung schools is to lower their admission standards. Lower admission standards mean less talented students, and that inevitably more people failing the bar exam. There is a correlation between low LSAT scores and low bar exam scores. Once the word gets out that a school has low bar admission rates the school faces a downward spiral. Lower admissions mean lower standards, which mean lower bar passing rates, which mean lower admissions.

A law degree has always been thought of as a passport to financial security. That belief is starting to change.