George Leef comments for Forbes:
Not so long ago, law school was a growth industry, with new schools being created and enrollments going ever higher. No more. There has been a dramatic turn-around over the last ten years.
Enrollments of first-year students are back where they were 40 years ago. According to the Law School Admissions Council, in 2004, more than 100,000 students applied for law school, but in 2013, just 59,000 did. Some law schools have had to lay off faculty members and administrators. Four independent law schools have recently had their bonds downgraded to “junk” status by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, reflecting their questionable finances.
Officials at the Thomas B. Cooley law school have decided to cancel the entire incoming class for this fall at its Ann Arbor campus.
Some law schools have significantly cut tuition. That has helped to stop their enrollment slide, but this may be one of those “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” phenomena, since students lured into Law School A with a discount are lost to Law Schools B through Z.
The weakest won’t survive even though the federal government has helped to keep law school enrollments from falling even more. As a Wall Street Journal editorial noted recently, the “Pay As You Earn” program that was expanded in 2011, “has been a slow-motion bailout for law schools.” Students who graduate with heavy debts will be able to escape from paying much of it back provided that they go to work for government or for a “public interest” law firm.
That article led law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds to suggest on his Instapundit blog (April 24):
Next scam: Law schools start “nonprofit” law firms that hire their own graduates, thus boosting their U.S. News rankings by ensuring their grads have jobs while letting their students get out from under debt in half the time. Plus, faculty can have high-paying side jobs managing things at the “nonprofit.”
Could there, however, be a silver lining in the law school decline? In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, “As Law Schools Struggle, Diversity Offers Opportunities” St. Louis University law professor Aaron Taylor argued that there is.
Taylor notes that the fall in law school applications has been the greatest among whites and Asians; that is good, he contends, because it will help redress the problem (as he sees it) that “blacks and Hispanics are woefully underrepresented” in the legal profession.
While those groups comprise roughly 30 percent of the population, they account for only 8.5 percent of America’s lawyers. Like so many others who believe that statistical gaps between groups should be closed or eliminated by social engineering, Taylor wants law schools to close the “gap” in lawyers.
With white and Asian students steering clear of the legal profession, you have to wonder if it would really be beneficial to lure more minority students into law school now, but let’s look at Taylor’s proposal. . . .