To Apply or Not to Apply? That’s a Tough Question

To Apply or Not to Apply? That’s a Tough Question

As law school class sizes shrink and the legal job market shows signs of life, some industry observers are wondering whether it’s a smart time to apply to law school.

It’s a debate that pits optimists against pessimists, both of whom make good points.

University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo proclaims himself squarely in the first camp.

“Schools are competing feverishly for good students. An applicant who, a few years ago, would have been wait-listed at a top twenty school, may now find herself with a scholarship,” Mr. Calo wrote in a recent article for Forbes.

Fewer students also means less competition in the entry-level job market.

Let’s start with the assumption that Ohio State University law professor Deborah J. Merritt has made: that class sizes will decline by an average of 8% a year from 2013 through 2017 — a projection based on shrinking enrollment figures over the last two years.

And let’s also assume, using National Association for Law Placement figures, that the number of graduates who get full-time legal jobs — a number that hasn’t changed much since 2009 — stays flat at around 27,000.

And let’s project ahead to the Class of 2017, composed of students who are just now applying to law school. Again assuming an 8% annual decline in class sizes, the number of graduates that year would fall to about 34,000 — or around 7,000 more than the number of 2012 graduates who landed full-time legal jobs.

That would be a substantially higher employment rate compared to Class of 2007 graduates. Roughly 70% of Class of 2007 graduates obtained a full-time job requiring bar passage — right before the industry took a nosedive.

For those with a more skeptical outlook, the response to such speculation is that we really don’t know how many and what kind of jobs are going to be out there four years from now.

“Changes in the quality of law positions, however, may counterbalance any optimism bias. Staff attorneys, contract attorneys, and document reviewers have replaced many conventional associates,” writes Ms. Merritt on her blog.

Matt Leichter, author of the Law School Tuition Bubble blog, adds another note of caution, writing, “Because of the large backlog of JDs out there, secure jobs and compensation are along way off, even if the number of graduates falls below the number of jobs created annually.”

So is it a good time to consider law school? The jury is still deliberating.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Law Blog

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