It appears that law schools are about to experience a bit of economic justice.
As the New York Times reports today, applications from aspiring JDs are on pace to hit a thirty year low. About 30,000 brave souls have applied for a spot this fall's law school class, a staggering 20 percent drop from this time last year, and down 38 percent from 2010, as shown in the graph below from the Law School Admissions Council. When all is said and done, about 40,000 students are projected to enroll, which would cap off a 24 percent free-fall in just three years -- or the time it takes your average student to graduate.
This is a desperately needed adjustment, for which the academy largely has itself to blame. The legal economy is a shambles, and law schools have done virtually nothing to react.
For the last decade and a half, universities treated legal education as a cash cow. Tuition rose beyond all reason, so that the average private law school grad in the class of 2011 borrowed $125,000 for their degree, according to the American Bar Association. Public school grads were a little better off, borrowing around $75,700. With students forking over ungodly sums of cash to learn the fine arts of torts and contracts, new institutions opened rapidly. These schools often catered to relatively marginal students, who they lured with egregiously over-optimistic jobs stats. Today, there are about 201 ABA-approved law schools, 19 more than there were in 2000, and seven more than in 2007, when the legal industry suffered a recession-induced aneurysm from which it hasn't recovered.