by Jeff Sovern
Last month the ABA Journal reported that as of January 13, the total number of applicants at ABA-approved law schools stood at 31,815. . . ." Last year, about 48% of applicants had applied by that date. If that trend holds, the total number of applicants for the year will be about 66,281. Going back to the 1990-91 application cycle, the smallest number of applicants was 71,500, in 1998-99 (the high was 100,600 in 2004-05).
Back in the 1998-99 year, the number of law students who actually enrolled was 42,804. By contrast, in the last five years, the smallest number of law students who enrolled was 48,937.
We may see a late surge in applications. Law school applications tend to rise when unemployment is high, as it obviously continues to be; perhaps some college students will discover they can't find jobs and apply later in the cycle. But if the current trend holds, we may see law schools competing more fiercely than usual to fill their classes. Because there are more law schools than there were back in 1999, with more seats to fill, law schools may admit more applicants with weak credentials. Alternatively, law schools may shrink their classes. Probably we will see both reductions in class sizes and law schools going more deeply into the applicant pool.