Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Another 10%+ decline in LSAT takers compared to last year

Blog Emperor Caron has links to the latest news.  (He also includes links to a chart about which majors do best on the LSAT--because they lump Philosophy with Theology, I'm sure that depresses the result for Philosophy majors, since those two majors are VERY different.)   [UPDATE:  Professor Filler's post and mine crossed paths in cyber-time!]

A couple of thoughts on this:

1.  People who don't get a JD still have to do something professionally.  What are they doing instead?  Getting an MBA?  Just entering the workforce in some other capacity?  Entering PhD programs?  We don't really know yet, and given the Simkovic & McIntyre research, it is likely that at least some of those not going to law school are making serious mistakes economically (if not professionally or personally).

2.  The likelihood that the 10%+ decline in LSAT takers will translate in to 10% fewer applicants is, of course, very high.  One things that means for those thinking about law teaching is that next year on the law teaching market will be as tight as this year, and this year is very tight indeed.  An uptick in applicants this year would have increased the likelihood of law schools waivering on whether to hire to jump into the market, but this newest development probably means that schools uncertain about tuition revenue and their budgets will err on the side of not hiring.

3.  While some schools are undergoing major contractions (e.g., the recent New England story), the reality is that lots of teaching positions for which schools have genuine needs are going unfilled currently due to budgetary uncertainties (schools are relying on adjuncts, short-term visitors, existing faculty teaching overloads or teaching outside their areas, etc.).  When the situation stabilizes in the next year or two (barring another economic collapse, of course), I expect we will see a dramatic uptick in academic hiring as schools try to meet the unfilled needs.

UPDATE:  I can not vouch that this comment is an accurate summary of Dean (soon-to-be President) Syverud's remarks, but the analysis sounds credible, and more-or-less consistent with what I've heard (though I can not vouch for the 175 number, below):

LSAC provided a graph showing that we have had similar cycles since the mid-1960s.  This one is a bit more dramatic because we came off all-time highs in hiring and applicants in 2007.

The Dean of Wash U Law School, Kent Syverud, gave a very compelling speech.  He says 175 of 202 law schools are operating at a substantial deficit, and the pain is being felt across the board, not just at so-called "marginal" law schools. Applicant numbers, by LSAT score, support that comment. 

He also says law schools will cut costs in the following ways (any errors in this summary or mine):

- Private universities may shut down associated law schools, as they did dental schools in an earlier era;
- Schools have let hiring of new faculty grind to a halt [BL COMMENT:  there were about 70 law schools at this year's hiring convention, less than half the number from two years ago; not all which attended will necessarily hire];
- Schools will not replace, with a tenure-track faculty member, any faculty member who successfully moves laterally or retires;
- Schools will cut tenured faculty via buy-outs, etc., and use instead much more affordable adjuncts;  Skills teachers could be especially hard-hit even at a time when the ABA and the profession are emphasizing skill development;
- Schools will cut staff;
- Schools will consolidate law libraries into main campus libraries;
- Schools will merge (like Texas Wesleyan); or
- Schools will sell out (like Charleston.

http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2013/10/another-10-decline-in-lsat-takers-compared-to-last-year.html

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