ABA Report: Law School Enrollment Declines, as Expected

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 17, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Did anyone not see this coming?

We've seen sign after sign after sign of decreased demand for law school seats: fewer LSAT takers, fewer applications, dismal post-graduation job prospects, and more. We've seen some schools cut class sizes, one cut a campus, and a few that obstinately refuse to correct for market forces and actually increased the number of seats available.

How's the situation looking industry-wide? According to the ABA's latest enrollment data, there were a few ticks' worth of decline, which, coming on the heels of a few past years' worth of decline, amounts to the lowest number of law students matriculating in decades.

What's Your Benchmark?

A few years ago, when the decline in demand first began, I was one of the few who wasn't crying, "OMG, LAW SCHOOL INDUSTRY COLLAPSE!" Why? It's because the decline, year-over-year, and year-over-year-over-year, was coming off of the most bloated law school class in history -- the 1L Enrollment of 2010 (a.k.a. the "wait the economic crisis out by going deeply into law school debt" crowd).

If that was an abnormal bloat, then the next few years could have been seen as the inevitable market correction for all of that front-loaded demand in 2010. But we're definitely getting to the point where no sane human being can argue that there isn't a true correction.

Why? The 2014 total enrollment for all years of students at all 204 ABA-approved law schools was 119,775 for the fall of 2014 -- the lowest number since 1982. And if you look at 1Ls only, we're talking 37,924 -- the lowest since 1974, when there were only 151 ABA-approved schools.

In short: the smallest classes in decades despite adding 50-ish more law schools.

Are Schools Adjusting?

Obviously, overall, they have to be -- fewer students means somebody is cutting classes. Here is a handy chart to compare the declines from last year to this year, courtesy of the ABA:

Are there any stats that really stand out? Not so much, but it is interesting to see the difference in percentages of schools that are taking significant action on class sizes. Last year, 27 schools increased their 1L class sizes by more than 10 percent against 81 schools that cut by more than 10 percent. This year, the split was less dramatic, with 33 schools increasing by more than 10 percent, and only 64 schools cutting by more than 10 percent.

See any stats that stand out to you? Tweet us @FindLawLP.

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