Upping Their Game to Level Out the Bar: Law Schools Revamp to Encourage Applications

Over the past five years law school applications and admissions have dropped significantly. In fact, there were nearly 35,000 fewer applicants to ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law schools in 2015 than in 2010.

Although the decline hasn’t reached the point of panic, law schools are beginning to realize that the dynamics of law school has changed. Potential students are no longer banging on the gates to get in, but rather looking for a reason to come in.

Students are beginning to evaluate their futures and future careers more intently. They’re demanding courses, seminars, externships, training, and advantages that will give them a substantial edge in the workplace. They no longer yearn for knowledge—they yearn for security. If a law school can’t or won’t give them practical legal skills and the ability to demonstrate those skills while they’re still in school, than what’s the point?

Unfortunately, this new mentality is causing a downward trend that could potentially ruin the law profession…unless law schools not only raise the bar, but also use it to attract new blood.

What to Do About Itlaw-school-library

In response to the applicant exodus, as well as the potential effects a continuing decline could have on the legal profession, law schools have begun to implement incentives to lure students into their classrooms. These innovations include:

  • Admission leniency. Simplified applications and fewer hoops to jump through will help build students’ confidence so they’ll be more likely to apply to harder schools. Some law schools, including State University of New York-Buffalo Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law, have decided to drop the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) as an application requirement for top-performing students, in order to encourage young graduates to apply without having to pass a test first.
  • Tuition help. Law school is notoriously expensive, but by lowering tuition fees and matching out-of-state tuition rates (tuition subsidies out-of-state students receive at their state schools), law schools hope to attract business-minded students to receive the same level of education for a discounted price.
  • Accelerated programs. Shorter programs are meant to entice students by providing the necessary education needed without the time commitment of a normal law school education. Rather than having to devote over four years of your time in school, accelerated programs can cut that time in half. Two-year programs allow students to accumulate credits over the summer and take up to 16 credit hours per semester. Although intense, the decreased time commitment can be a huge draw for many students willing to put in the effort.
  • More diverse joint degree courses (elective classes). A more eclectic schedule provides students with a broader range of study options. More options mean that students can diversify their education in order to plan and secure their future. New joint degree course options can include computer sciences, bioengineering, public policy, business studies, medical degrees, etc., and will provide the means for a secondary career option as well as a better understanding of the legal framework for that specific field.
  • Practical training and residencies. Real-world experience is essential for law students to gain confidence and insight, and yet it is sorely lacking in many law schools around the country. Training programs and options for residencies with certified attorneys will give students an incentive to get the education and experience needed without the frustration of going at it alone

And the Projected Outcome Is…

Students are demanding more incentives in order to commit to law school. This puts pressure on law schools to give prospective students what they want. However, the biggest challenge law schools face when discussing initiative options is improving programs while also keeping costs in check. Most of the time budget outweighs incentives, but when incentives are the only thing bringing in applicants, the balance has to shift. The question is, will the shift make enough of a difference?

Will these initiatives break the downward trend, and help fill law schools, create better lawyers, and give those in need the quality representation they deserve? Or are they merely temporary band-aids placed over a terminal wound? We’d like to hear your thoughts! Please share your opinion using the comments function on this page.

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