Economy leads to smaller law classes

A new study found over half of law schools are admitting fewer students.

by Meghan Holden

Law schools around the Twin Cities and the nation are admitting fewer applicants than in previous years, a trend many say is due to the economy.

A study published Monday by Kaplan Test Prep found more than half of law schools nationwide admitted fewer applicants this fall. Officials at 63 percent of the schools cited the economy and poor job market in the legal field.

More than a quarter of schools that said they didn’t cut admissions said they planned to do so for fall 2013.

The University of Minnesota Law School had 205 first-year students entering this fall —about 40 less than the previous year.

University Law School Director of Admissions Nick Wallace said they haven’t reduced admissions intentionally.

“I think that ultimately law schools’ enrollment numbers and their pools are a reflection of the applicant pool that’s out there,” he said.

Wallace attributes the smaller class size to fewer students taking the LSAT.

“The past couple of years now [the Law School Admission Council] has reported declines in the overall applicant pool,” Wallace said. “When the pool gets smaller, we still want to take the best students that we can take and that also reflects in a smaller entering class.”

Other law schools around the metro said the economy was the main factor in lower admissions.

William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul has had fewer applicants in recent years, said Dean Eric Janus.

The school has cut its entering class size by 16 percent from 309 last year to 260 this year.

“It’s because of the job market and the decline of applications,” Janus said, “which I think is a response to the perceptions about the job market and also probably about the perceptions of the cost of legal education.”

St. Thomas School of Law has also had a decrease in applications over the past two years.

“The decline in applicants is tied to the employment market and the overall value equation,” said Cari Haaland, assistant dean of admissions for the law school.

St. Thomas’ law school had more students enrolled in its 2011 class than the previous year.

Haaland said they targeted a class of 145-155 students for 2012 and brought in a class of 146.

“We were very pleased with the size and quality of the class,” said Haaland.

Revamping curriculum

The Kaplan survey found that 68 percent of law schools have revamped their curriculum to make their students more “practice ready” to give them a “competitive edge” while applying for jobs after graduation.

Wallace said that the University Law School has been a “leader for the past few years now” in its hands-on curriculum.

The Law School is one of the largest clinical programs in the country, Wallace said. It offers 24 clinical programs with practical learning experiences in which students are supervised by practicing attorneys but represent their own clients in court or real legal situations, depending on the clinic.

The school has also recently revamped curriculum to include third-year capstone courses.

Janus said William Mitchell “has always been a practically oriented law school.”

“Our focus has always been on producing graduates who are practice ready,” Janus said.

Because of this, he believes that William Mitchell — which also has clinical programs for students — has needed to make fewer changes than other law schools.

St. Thomas has responded to the demand to change curriculum by “adding practicums” as well as additional clinical opportunities, Haaland said.

“These changes have happened not in response to the legal market,” said Wallace, “but we are always mindful of how the legal market is evolving and how legal education is evolving, and we want to be always at the forefront of that.”