Where Have All the Law Students Gone?
Innovative curricula, featuring evening and weekend classes, attracted professionals looking to up their game. Affordable student loans also made law school accessible to the masses; not just the elite.
A perfect storm for a bubble burst. The burst came in the form of the 2008 recession. Newly enrolled law students eventually declined by 25%.
One Michigan law school that embodies these national trends is Western Michigan's Cooley Law School. According to the Lansing State Journal, using American Bar Association data, Cooley self-reported a peak enrollment of nearly four thousand students in 2007, but saw only 1300 enroll last year; a 60% drop.
For law school grads facing repayment on quarter-million-dollar student loans, the prospect of earning "only" five figures has made the repayment process daunting to say the least. As a result, far fewer college graduates have been drawn to the field.
Veteran readers of this blog may recall some of our earlier posts on the Cooley Law School effect on the industry; here, here, and here. We caught a lot of heat for those posts from many a Cooley grad and that is understandable as there are many successful Cooley grads spread throughout the legal industry in Michigan. More than once, readers compared this blogger's law school alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, to Cooley - the truth sometimes hurts.
With its attendant reduction in revenues, the LSJ refers to Cooley's present situation as a "free fall" decline, even pinning a downturn in the local economy on Cooley. Far fewer students looking for temporary housing; far fewer students around patronizing bars and restaurants in the evenings and on weekends.
More bad news came in the form of tighter ABA reporting requirements for a key metric: what percentage of the school's graduates are employed full-time as a lawyer in a position that requires passage of the bar examination? The answer for Cooley is 38%. With nearly 2/3rds of the graduates not practicing law, there really is no mystery why enrollment is so far down.
All of this begs the question, do we really need any more lawyers? Although we observe a fully stocked bar throughout the counties in which we service our clients, there is always room for, and a need for, the next generation.
The legal service profession is no different.