- The number of first year law students is up by more than 9% nationally
- There will be more law graduates competing for jobs in 2024
(Reuters) – If the halls of law school are feeling a bit crowded this fall, it’s not your imagination.
First-year enrollments are on the rise at most campuses following a successful admissions cycle that saw the number of applicants jump nearly 13%. At least 17 law schools have hosted classes of 1Ls a quarter or more more than last year.
The American Bar Association won’t release official enrollment data until December, but more than half of accredited law schools have self-reported their new class numbers as of September 17. Among those schools, the total number of 1L increased by more than 9.% from 2020, according to figures compiled by law school admissions consultant Mike Spivey.
“I think for a lot of schools we really didn’t take into account this unique cycle with the increased number of LSATs that have been administered and the overwhelming response from students excited to start law school.” said Mathiew Le, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Texas Law School, who was targeting a new class of 300 and ended up with 419 new students. “For many schools, including ours, our projections really didn’t match up with reality. “
While many programs can accommodate the influx, it is not clear that the legal job market has room for more new Juris doctors, warned Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency. He said law schools were at risk of making the same mistakes they made during and after the 2008 recession, when enrollment increased as legal employment opportunities contracted.
“It doesn’t feel like the entry-level job market can handle that much 1L,” McEntee said. “Schools should have continued to decrease enrollment, at least a little. “
Wake Forest University Law School saw the largest percentage increase reported to date, from 88 1L last year to 168 this year, an increase of almost 91%. Executive Admissions Director Branden Nicholson said this marks a return to the norm for Wake Forest, which deliberately reduced the incoming class of 2020 to make up for a historically significant 1L class the year before.
George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School is next with a 74% increase in freshman numbers, followed by the 72% jump in Vermont Law School.
Among the so-called T-14 law schools, Carey Law School at the University of Pennsylvania has a 1L class which is 24% larger than last year, while 1L classes at Duke Law School and University of California Los Angeles School of Law is up 18%. Cornell Law School’s new freshman class is 14% larger.
The University of Texas law school’s 42% increase to date is the largest among the 20 top-ranked schools by US News & World Report. The No.22-ranked University of Notre Dame law school, which came under fire in the spring when it warned admitted students that seat deposits were higher than expected and places would be awarded on a first-pay, first-served basis before filing deadline, ended up with a Class 1L that is 18% larger.
Texas can easily accommodate the larger Class 1L, Le said. New student enrollments have fluctuated between around 300 and over 500 students over the past two decades, he noted. He added two legal writing instructors for this year’s class.
“The most recent class was around 380 students,” Le said. “So the difference between the most recent class and this year’s class is about 40 students. It hasn’t really changed the dynamics of law school, as historically we’ve been able to handle a much larger class size.
Le said many new Texas 1Ls this year had questions about their job prospects. Data from previous years showed that the school’s graduate employment rate remained fairly stable even when there were significantly larger classes, a good sign for this year, he said.
Beyond employment, increased demand for JD this year may have pushed up the 2024 class student bill, McEntee said. With so many applicants, some schools were probably less willing to negotiate scholarship offers or may have withheld some of their available financial aid, he said. This could further exacerbate financial inequalities in legal education. Studies have shown that black and Latino students on average pay more for their law degrees than their white classmates.
“It’s really frustrating, after a decade of working on this topic, to see schools making choices that kick start the cycle of over-enrollment,” McEntee said. “It was all predictable.
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