Lack of Interest May Lead to a Sentence of Doom for the Legal Profession

When you look back on law school, do you have fond memories? Do you remember your daydreams of being successful and becoming a partner in a large firm? Or do you remember the long grueling hours spent memorizing dates and studying precedents?

Now, go back even further. What do you remember about applying to law school? Besides receiving your acceptance letter, can you recall any truly invigorating moments? Or do memories of anxiety and frustration trump the good?

I ask because the memories you have may shed light on why there has been an alarming decline in law school applications.

law-school-graduateA Worrying Trend

As a professional attorney, you may have noticed an unsettling disturbance within the legal community as of late. Although hidden by terms such as cost efficiency and risk management, this disturbance is none other than that cruel mistress named…downsizing. You can see her effects all across the legal realm; from the gradual disappearance of large firms—so much for your dream job—to the endangerment of court reporting jobs, the legal profession has definitely become more compressed over the years. But why? Why the need for downsizing?

One answer may be the slow decline of a qualified workforce. Over the past five years, the legal profession has witnessed both ends of the eager workforce spectrum. In 2010, accredited American Bar Association law schools across the nation received a record breaking number of applications—147,525, to be exact. Unfortunately, the five years following saw the number of applicants (and enrollments) drastically decrease:

  • 2013. ABA schools saw 16% fewer applications than in 2010, approximately 123,475.
  • 2014. The trend continues, with ABA schools reporting a 7% drop in applications from 2013 and an alarming 18.8% decrease from 2010. Approximately 119,775 applications were received
  • 2015. The trend shows signs of slowing down, but the path is still downward as ABA schools see 6.7% fewer applications than 2014. The total: approximately 111,750.

Although these numbers aren’t necessarily low enough to cause a panic, law schools across the country are questioning what caused the trend and when (or if) it will stop.

The Law School Catch-22

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, the country has been struggling to recover. Unfortunately, recovering from financial loss usually requires risk management and cost efficiency planning. Does this sound familiar?

When downsizing reared ugly head once again, the legal job market changed. Firms began to limit the number of employees (especially new hires), to reduce salaries, and to deemphasize preference for associates with joint law degrees. As a result, fewer and fewer students are putting their futures into law.

Here’s the catch—with fewer and fewer ambitious individuals attending law school, there are fewer qualified attorneys for firms to hire. This just perpetuates the need to downsize, as firms aren’t able to keep up with workload. It becomes a vicious cycle that—if it continues—will cause alarming effects throughout the legal profession.

Potential Effects of a Decimated Workforce

It’s easy to see that without applicants, law schools are unable to prepare students to take the bar, which results in an alarming lack of qualified lawyers. Licensed attorneys are the only ones legally allowed to provide legal advice—so where will that leave us, not to mention the millions of people in need of that advice? A saying about a creek comes to mind.

  • Fewer applicants will put law schools in jeopardy of closing.
  • To keep open, some law schools will choose to lower standards in order to fill quotas.
  • Poorly trained and ill-qualified lawyers will flood the market.
  • Your cases will become even more frustrating, as you must deal with inferior legal counselors, both as opponents and as your own support team.
  • Those in need of experienced legal aid will be limited in their representation choices; more potential clients will choose to represent themselves rather than gambling on poor representation.
  • Workloads will shift, threatening your salary and job security.

…the list goes on and on.

The Good News

Although fewer law students mean fewer lawyers, it also means less competition for law degrees. As a result, getting accepted into accredited law schools is easier than it has ever been.

Since law schools are fighting for a limited pool of qualified applicants, schools across the board have lowered their admissions standards.

  • Acceptable LSAT scores and GPA ranges have significantly dropped.
  • Application deadlines have widened. It is no longer imperative to get your application in early.
  • Scholarship opportunities have increased. Schools are attempting to attract more candidates by offering larger and more diverse scholarships.

In other words, now is the perfect time to apply!

What Do You Think?

Given the potential risks involved, how do you feel about the application trend? Should law schools be working on ways to attract more applicants? Is it reasonable to think that a continuous decline could affect you, your firm, and your career? Are you worried?

In the comment section provided, let us know your thoughts and concerns. Over the years we’ve had our own concerns with court reporter downsizing trends and effects, so we understand the fear a statistical trend can evoke.

For more information on downsizing and guidance on how you can avoid career disappointment by upping your game, browse our extensive library of articles or contact us today at (703) 837-0076.

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