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Bargaining for an education

More news on law schools is out this week.

The Wall Street Journal reports that law schools are increasingly offering prospective students incentives to enroll. Some schools are letting students submit applications past deadlines. Others are offering more scholarship money than ever to potential students.

Scholarship money offered by law schools has tripled in the past ten years, jumping from $816 million in the 2008-2009 school year to $1 billion in the last school year alone. The Journal reports that some law schools are even negotiating with prospective students on scholarship amounts.

Law schools this year have been concerned in general about the shrinking pool of applicants. The number of people taking the LSAT has fallen from 171,500 in 2010 to 155,000 last year to 130,000 this cycle, the smallest group since 2001.

A smaller test taker pool ultimately means fewer high-scoring (and rankings-boosting) participants for law schools to choose from. Maryland schools have already been affected, with he University of Baltimore School of Law reporting applicant numbers down 17 percent earlier this year.

One comment

  1. This is old news (as in “many years” old). Law schools, as you say yourself, have been increasing scholarship money for the last ten years, particularly private schools that have to compete against smaller state school tuitions (though state schools now offer substantial scholarships as well). Bargaining over scholarship money has been a fact of life in law school for a long time, and is not a new phenomenon.

    It also always has been the case that good students can apply to law school late in the summer, after the application deadline has passed, and still be admitted. Schools want to admit the best students and find a way to make room for them whenever they apply. Schools don’t advertise this, of course, because there is no need to. Smart people figure it out on their own, and smart people are the only ones who have leverage late in the admissions game.

    Also, the fact that the applicant pool is shrinking does not mean, as you say, that “ultimately” this means “fewer high-scoring participants” (at least significantly fewer). For this to be true the drop in applicants would have to be uniform across all admission index categories, and it is not. This is understandable. High-scoring applicants still can expect to do well in law school (as opposed to just get a law degree), and people who do well in law school have opportunities. It is true that there are fewer opportunities for those graduating in the bottom of the class than there used to be, but this is true for all of education. It’s always seemed strange to me that law school applicants think admission to law school necessarily entails guaranteed, high-level employment. In law, as in life generally, you pay your money and take your chances. The non-native born members of the law school applicant pool seem to understand this point much better than the home grown ones. I suppose it always has been that way in this Country.

    As for the drop in the UB applicant pool, you’d need to wait for a pattern. Large one year drops are not uncommon in law school admissions, particularly in volatile times, but often they are statistical anomalies and not harbingers of long term trends. Without knowing how many people apply to UB, I’m confident the School does not lack for qualified applicants, and that the size of its applicant pool will stabilize at a more than large enough number. The next time that doesn’t happen will be the first time. The law school applicant pool needed some market correction anyway. It was far more bloated than was healthy.

    The Wall Street Journal and New York Times have been pretty far behind the curve in their stories about the changing nature of legal education and the legal profession, and often way off base even when they’re timely. There are much better places to do “research.”