The ABA has just released first year enrollment figures for the fall of 2013 at the nation’s 202 ABA-approved law schools. 39,675 students enrolled this fall, marking the third straight year that has featured a steep decline, after enrollment reached an all-time high of 52,488 in 2010. You have to go back to 1975 to find a smaller first year class (Attempts to fill the gap with ever-more non-JD students seem to have stalled, as schools enrolled almost exactly the same number of non-JD students this year as last).
What’s particularly striking about these numbers is that first year enrollment is down by 24.4% even though admissions standards have been slashed all across legal academia (Yale, Harvard and Stanford are the only elite schools that haven’t dropped admissions standards, and many non-elite schools have cut median LSAT scores for admits by ten percentage points or more).
In 2004, 55.8% of 100,600 applicants were accepted to at least one school, and 47.9% of applicants ended up enrolling: this fall, about 76.8% of 59,400 applicants were accepted, and 66.8% ended up enrolling. Applicant totals are heading down to a projected total of about 51,300 in this admissions cycle, which means that if law schools had maintained the admissions standards that prevailed a decade ago, next fall’s incoming class would feature about 24,600 matriculants, which is a number about 13% larger than the average annual total of jobs for lawyers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates will become available over the course of this decade. (Actually applicant totals would probably be even lower if so many schools hadn’t started offering to admit anyone with a college degree who can sign a federal educational loan document, but let’s not make this hypothetical unnecessarily complicated). Since currently about 10% of matriculants fail to graduate, simply maintaining admissions standards would have essentially eliminated the current oversupply of law graduates.