This Will Be The Second Year In A Row….

November 29, 2011, 4:16 pm

We thought that the demise of law school was as likely as this.

…that I have had no requests for law or business school recommendations.  Zero. Between graduates who had taken a year or so off and students heading right into the chute, I used to average between 5 and 10 law and biz recs every fall.  Also popular for a while were public health degrees, master’s in social work and master’s in urban design programs.  But I have had no requests for those either. Applications for the Ph.D. have pretty much petered out, although interestingly, these are the only requests for recommendations I have received since spring 2009. Last year I had two grads go off immediately to American Studies programs, and I am starting to send off recommendations for another prospective Ph.D. candidate now. I have had only two requests for any graduate program at all this fall.

This strikes me as a tremendous change.  Annie Lowrey at Slate reported last March that law school apps had dropped steadily since 2001. There was a little uptick between 2007 and 2009 as some college grads decided to ride out the bad job market by staying in school, but the numbers dropped an average of  11.5% again last year.  At LSU, it was a 13% drop, but those who did apply were slightly better students. University of Pennsylvania dropped 12.7%. Yale and Duke got hit 16.5% and 20%, respectively.

It looks like things could be even worse this year.  Nathan Koppel, at WSJ’s Law Blog reports a whopping decline of 18.7% in those who took the LSAT over the summer, although we would also like to note that fewer applications doesn’t mean fewer lawyers. Those entering classes in 2012 will be full and, as one assistant dean of admissions said, they will be a “more focused” cohort.  According to Koppel, the group who may be opting out of law school are those who went in the past because…. becuzzz… be..cuh….uh ….zzzzzzzzzz….they couldn’t decide what to do. Law school promised a comfortable, if perhaps dull, career that average and better than average students could choose.  Koppel writes,

We spoke to Wendy Margolis, a spokeswoman for the Law School Admission Council. The recent LSAT data, she said, suggests that law school applications likely will continue to decline in the near term. “I think until good press gets out there about the job situation for lawyers, this decline will likely continue.” But she concurs with the view of some law school admissions officers that the caliber of applicants has changed. “People who aren’t as Gung-ho about law school are dropping out of the application pool,” she said. “They aren’t just doing it, because they can’t figure out what else to do.”

That latter group would characterize many of the would-be attorneys we sent to law school from Zenith:  they were nice kids who were sure that three more years of school would inspire them in a way the last four had not.  If inspiration didn’t strike, the law would feed them until it did.  Oh, and there were a few who really chose the law. There was my honors student who is now in his second hitch at the DOJ (he left briefly during Bush II) and spends his time kicking fraudulent mortgage lending a$$;  the guy who became an amazing criminal defense attorney and specializes in death row defense and the young woman who won a free ride to Columbia, clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, and now does labor law. There are probably a few more that I am forgetting.

But the vast majority of students I recommended for law school just wanted to make a living, no more and no less.  Now that it looks like the law is not, as many of the above articles point out, “a sure thing,” and will saddle them with even more debt, they are walking away.  But to where, I wonder?

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