Facing Drop in Applications, Law Schools Cut Costs
New York's 15 law schools have opened their doors to what many deans describe as one of the most motivated first-year classes in memory. But with significantly fewer prospective students to go around, the institutions are grappling with the repercussions of the decline.
Following a national trend, most of the New York schools enrolled fewer first-year J.D. students this fall than was the case six years ago. Only three brought in classes that were larger than last year's.
According to figures from the schools, first-year J.D. class size overall is down 9 percent from last year and 19 percent from 2008.
The classes were culled from an applicant pool that has declined even more precipitously—20 percent from last year and 31 percent from 2008, the last class before the financial crisis spurred a two-year swell in applicants as people flocked to law school to avoid a dismal job market.
But after three straight years of falling applications, almost all New York's law schools are adjusting their business models.
Many are left with the delicate task of admitting classes big enough to cover their costs but whose median Law School Admission Test scores and grade-point averages are not so low they would drag down the schools' U.S. News and World Report rankings. Competition for the best recruits has never been greater. In most cases, schools are shrinking themselves to preserve quality.
"Every dean I've spoken to said even though they knew it was going to be a lean year, the pool was still not as robust as what we thought it would be," said Anthony Crowell, dean of New York Law School. "Obviously from a revenue perspective this is not ideal."
And there may be more lean years ahead.
"Most people believe this is a long-term trend, not an isolated occurrence," said David Schraver, a partner at Nixon Peabody and president of the New York State Bar Association. "It's a reflection of all the attention the media has given to the large average debt for recent graduates, the decline of high-paying jobs and the number of unemployed recent graduates."