Cooley’s President and Dean, Don LeDuc, is publishing commentaries on the Law School, legal education, and related topics. In this commentary, President LeDuc shows that now is a great time to enter law school.
If you have dreamed of going to law school, now is the time to act. Your odds of admission have never been better, whether you aspire to get into an elite school, into the school of your choice, or just hope to get into a law school.
About 74% of 2013 law school applicants will enroll in law school, based on current 2013 application numbers and the law school admissions practices of the past two years. In 2003, about 49% of law school applicants enrolled in law school, and that rate has been climbing steadily each year since 2004 to a high of 65% in 2012. This enrollment trend is likely to continue in light of declining applications. Over the past couple of years, most schools were making hard decisions between cutting entering class size and reducing minimum admissions standards. Those who have reduced class size will find it more difficult to continue to do so in 2013. Based on past performance, the schools are unlikely to reduce entering class size in proportion to their decline in applications.
So, the odds now strongly favor admission and ultimate enrollment. But why go to law school now, given the current labor market? Three answers.
First, the current labor market is irrelevant. The employment market today will not be the same in three or four years, the time it takes for most students to get admitted, start classes, graduate, pass the bar, and go to work. All indications are that the economy will slowly improve over the next few years, leading to more employment in business and government and more jobs for lawyers. You should make your decision based on what is likely to happen by the time you graduate, not what is happening today. Beginning with 2014, law school graduation numbers will drop considerably, resulting from the drop in first-year enrollment in 2011. Competition for jobs among law school graduates will be less.
Second, the popular assessment of the current legal employment market is woefully inaccurate. Over the past few years, employment of lawyers has been stronger than for nearly all other professions and occupations, and in 2012 was even stronger. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual average unemployment of lawyers was 1.4% in 2012, and the number of unemployed lawyers was the lowest since 2007. While there has been much media and blog stress on unemployment among law school graduates in their first year after law school, employment among those graduates far exceeds unemployment among them. You should not be swayed by the critics, but make your own evaluation of the actual current situation.
Third, this decision should focus on the long term, not today. If the first two reasons are not enough, think “reverse” Social Security. Our nation confronts a retirement boom created by those who constituted the baby boom. While we worry about how to cover the social security cost of the increasing boomer retirements, we lose track of how many jobs these retirements will create, including the likely surge from those who have delayed retirement during the recession. And guess what? Those retirees will include an increasing number of lawyers among them. You should regard your decision in the context of law as a long-term career.
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