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Law School Enrollment Drops Drastically, Returns to Pre-COVID Levels: ABA  

Law school enrollment dropped dramatically in 2022 after a noticeable uptick through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to newly published data from the American Bar Association (ABA). After two years of enrollment growth, the data shows first-year law students at ABA-accredited schools plummeted 11%, returning the rate to its approximate pre-pandemic level, according to the ABA report.

ABA3The data from the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar includes aggregate admissions statistics, among other information, and is compiled in the trade association’s Standard 509 report. According to the report, total admissions checked in at 116,723 students for the fall semester, although first-year students dropped by nearly 4,700 students to 38,020.

“This series of public reports—including bar passage and employment reports to be released separately next year—provide important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” said Bill Adams, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education. The data covers 196 law schools accredited by the ABA, notes the report.

From Twitter

Reuters Legal @ReutersLegal ·Dec 19

"Experts had predicted enrollment would return to normal following law schools’ blockbuster 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic, a weak entry level job market, and the 2020 presidential election combined to spur interest in legal careers"

According to the ABA, the fall of 2021 saw a 12% jump in enrollment from the previous year. Those lofty enrollment numbers were “attributed to fewer employment opportunities generated by, among other factors, the pandemic and a generally weak job environment,” according to the report.

Among some of the other observations in the report include a noticeable uptick in the utilization of non-J.D. programs like LL.M., certificate and masters programs. Collectively, those programs jumped 14.7% year-over-year. Including non-J.D. enrollment figures, students attending ABA-approved law schools in the fall of 2022 rose 1.7% from 138,545 to 140,857.

Going forward, the Spivey Consulting Group, which helps guide prospective law students, projects the upcoming admission cycle will see a drop in enrollment between 1% and 5%. This would, naturally, make the application process less competitive. “There is no way law schools, in aggregate, can keep decreasing class size,” according to the consulting group. “Maybe a few will, but revenue for almost all law schools is a function of tuition and enrollment. Faculty and staff have to be paid, electricity, etc.”

Further, many schools have already begun bowing out of active participation in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Schools ranking, which often incentivized schools to pare down class sizes in order to hit target LSAT and GPA scores, Spivey says. Overall, this could mean less competition across the board. “ …That is a beautiful 1-2 punch if you are an applicant, and not as much if you are a dean of admissions.”

For a summary of the ABA admissions data, visit here.

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