One Unanticipated Consequence of Political Anxiety? Increased Law School Enrollment

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on February 03, 2020

As has been exhaustively written about, we're living in a time of extreme polarization. Each side feels that they are under siege. Political science professors Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster note that people are now more politically motivated in opposition to another party rather than a firm adherence to their own party's platforms.

What this fear and antipathy mean, besides a lot of angry Twitter threads, is that law school applications have risen since 2017. If you feel that an opposing party is encroaching on your basic rights – and many people, both right- and left-leaning, do – then you want tools to fight that encroachment. What better way than to become a lawyer?

Interestingly, it is not just that law school attendance is up. It is that the applicant pool is also stronger – at least in terms of traditional metrics like LSAT scores. Despite a larger and stronger applicant pool, however, the actual number of 1Ls has remained steady. The takeaway is that law schools are becoming more selective when accepting applicants. The number of law schools who have closed or lost ABA accreditation may also be a factor.

Attendance Is Back Up Despite Uneven Financial Outlook

Law school attendance sagged in the last decade. Too many overpriced law schools led to a lot of unemployed and indebted grads. It was generally thought a bad idea to go to law school unless you went to a top tier law school or received significant financial aid.

That is turning around, despite ever-increasing tuition. While that could partially be due to better economic circumstances, over 40 percent of new law school applicants say the political environment impacted their decision to apply, according to a new survey by Kaplan. For some applicants, economic concerns are simply not the leading factor.

One Gallup poll found that half of undergraduates think law school is a good choice for a career in government, politics or public service. Job prospects of recent law graduates have remained steady since the Great Recession, meaning about only one-fourth of law school graduates will get a job at a big firm and the corresponding six-figure salary. But those prospects may be less daunting if Big Law is never your goal in the first place.

Is It a Good Idea to Go To Law School for Political Reasons?

When this rise first occurred, it was labeled the “Trump Bump." Yet the phenomenon has remained long after the election. Considering the nation's current divisiveness, that bump may continue for some time. Perhaps we are living in a new normal.

As to whether it is wise to go to law school based on political ideals, well - it depends. Passion for justice is certainly an important factor when pursuing a career in the law, however you define justice. Still, it is important to consider a variety of factors when applying to law school. Many students have six-figure debt upon graduation. With that much at stake, economic considerations simply have to play a part in the decision to attend law school.

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