Law school enrollment down 9%, 15% from 2010, ABA reports

Law school enrollment is down 9 percent from a year ago and 15 percent from 2010, the American Bar Association recently reported.

The ABA Section of Legal Education released the preliminary numbers for the first time ahead of its normal publication in the spring, on account of media speculation about the drop in enrollment.

“a lot of entities were gathering data website to website,” said Barry Currier, the ABA’s interim consultant on legal education. “While hopefully accurate, it was incomplete. We wanted to avoid people relying on partial data. We had the data and verified that it was accurate and thought it would be appropriate to release in advance of our final report.”

The data shows that 44,481 students began their law school studies this fall, down from a high of 52,488 in fall of 2010.

The number of applicants was down by more than 14 percent this year, and 23 percent from 2010. Several schools had announced planned reductions in enrollment, including University of California Hastings College of Law, Temple University — James E. Beasley School of Law and Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

But the number of schools that saw enrollment drops was clearly much higher and several sources were publishing data. With this preliminary report, the ABA confirmed that 149 schools decreased in enrollment this year, 90 by more than ten percent.

But there is no word yet on whether LSAT and GPA scores have dropped. Most schools that lowered enrollment did so in an effort to ensure their profiles did not drop significantly.

The ABA is working with the LSAC for the first time to validate GPA and LSAT data for each law school. Currier said that process will take time and he expects the full report in the spring.

“Over the past year, the section has worked hard to improve its method of collecting and monitoring the data it needs to properly accredit law schools," said Kent Syverud, chair of the legal education section and dean at Washington University School of Law.  "This effort includes, among other things, a substantial focus on admissions, bar passage, enrollment and job-placement data so that the ABA has a capacity to identify and intervene earlier where the data indicates a problem at a school.”

The report also showed that 48 law schools increased enrollment, four by more than 10 percent. Thirty-nine schools had enrollments within 5 students from the previous year.