For the approximately 300 UCI undergraduates and thousands nationwide who apply to law schools each year, gaining admissions has become especially difficult due to increased law school selectivity and further constriction of the legal job market.
Nearly 88% of law school admissions officers expect to see a spike in applications this year, the first increase in almost five years, according to Kaplan’s 2015 survey of admissions officers at 120 law schools nationwide. This increase combined with law school selectivity will make it even harder for students to gain admissions.
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) found that since December 2014, the number of LSAT takers has increased significantly per consecutive administration of the LSAT, a pattern not seen since the Great Recession in the late 2000s. This also suggests that more students considered applying to law school in fall 2015.
Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-law programs, explained that when the Great Recession hit, many very qualified students could not find jobs with just their undergraduate degree. As a result, many decided to go to law school to make themselves more marketable.
As more qualified students applied to law schools, law schools, in turn, accepted more qualified students. The rise in law school graduates was not coupled with a rise in legal jobs, however, and, as a result, many law school graduates could not find jobs.
“For the first time ever, the legal job market could not handle the influx of all the numbers of attorneys,” said Thomas.
When undergraduates found that many law school graduates from 2007, 2008 and 2009 could not find jobs, many chose not to apply to law school. This resulted in fewer applications during the admission cycles from 2010 to 2014.
In fall 2009 for instance, 86,600 students applied to law school, according to data from the LSAC. By fall 2014, this number fell to just 55,700 students.
“When law schools get fewer applicants they have to make a tough decision,” said Thomas. “They either have to decide to accept the same amount of students and have a less-qualified class and diminished academic standards, or they can make the decision to maintain their academic standards but accept fewer and fewer students. The vast majority of law schools have chosen to maintain their high academic standards.”
A survey conducted by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in 2014, presented that the employment rate for law school graduates has risen since the onset of the Great Recession. However, the number of hires for the 2014 class was much smaller than the class in years prior.
In its press release, NALP stated that “the overall number of jobs secured was three percent fewer than the Class of 2013, but because the size of the graduating class itself was more than six percent smaller than the previous class, the overall employment rate went up.”
As law graduates from the Class of 2014 are obtaining jobs more easily than graduates in previous years because of less competition, many undergraduates are considering law school to be a good investment. This may explain why law school applications are expected to rise this upcoming year.
Yet, even though more applicants are expected for the first time in nearly five years, according to Thomas who spoke to law school admissions officers nationwide, it seems that law schools do not want to repeat the cycle of admitting more students than what the legal job market can handle. As such, many will hold their current enrollment ceilings, despite the influx of applications.
Law schools and law associations have yet to see the impacts of an increasing applicant pool. If the number of applications go up, but the number of acceptances stays approximately the same, this means that it will be more difficult for students to get admitted into law school, especially into the nation’s top law schools.
For prospective law school students, this is especially challenging, as the law school’s ranking is often correlated with the expected graduate’s likelihood of receiving a job and a high salary.
Statistics provided by admissions officers at the law school fair held on Ring Road on Nov. 2, showed that 97% of the Class of 2014 graduates from UC Berkeley Law School, which ranks #8 in the nation, were employed after graduation. In contrast, 81% of 2014 graduates from Loyola Law School, which ranks #75 in the nation, were employed.
Moreover, the median salary for a Class of 2014 graduate from UC Berkeley Law School was $140,000. For UCLA Law School, which ranks #16 in the nation, the median salary was $100,000. Salaries at these top law schools were much higher than the national median salary which, according to NALP, was $63,000.
A panel of admissions officers from various UC law schools held a discussion at the Career Center on Nov. 2. The admissions officers discussed the importance of student applicants to distinguish themselves with their LSAT scores and GPA.
“The LSAT is really important because it is the only way to compare you against all other students, and it is a predictor of law school success and bar passage,” said Desmond Wu, Assistant Director of Admissions at UCLA School of Law.
The admissions officers also stressed that in light of the difficulty in admission, students should make sure that law school is something they are actually interested in before applying.
“If you’re not sure about law school, visit schools and talk to students,” said Grace Mayeda, Associate Director of Admissions at UC Berkeley School of Law. “Take advantage of your resources because law school is not for everyone.”