New law student enrollment jumps 12%, risking job market glut
- New data from the ABA shows significant increase in first-year student enrollment
- More J.D. graduates in 2024 could mean lower employment rates
(Reuters) - The pandemic-driven surge in law school enrollment is real.
The number of first-year law students nationwide increased nearly 12% this fall, according to data released Wednesday by the American Bar Association. It said there are 42,718 new Juris Doctor students at the 196 law schools accredited by the ABA, up 4,516 from 2020.
That jump follows months of speculation that COVID-19’s disruption of the entry level hiring market for college graduates, coupled with current events including the murder of George Floyd, the presidential election, and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, inspired more people to pursue legal careers. It could also signal a tougher employment market when the students graduate, if demand for junior lawyers wanes.
An increase in first-year law students was not unexpected. According to the Law School Admission Council, the number of people applying for a spot this fall was up 13%—the biggest year-over-year jump since 2002.
But a 12% enrollment increase is surprising, said law school admissions consultant Mike Spivey, and indicates that many law schools struggled to gauge how many students to admit during an unpredictable cycle, ending up with more first-year students than intended.
“I talked to a score of deans this summer, and not a single person thought it would be this high,” he said. “Twelve percent is a huge number. You almost never see that.”
ABA data show that 153 law schools either increased the size of this year’s first-year class or kept it even with 2020. Another 43 schools decreased their first-year enrollment this year.
Law schools admitting significantly larger starting classes run the risk of flooding the hiring market with graduates in three years and pushing down employment rates, Spivey said.
“Right now, the market is hot, but if the pendulum swings back and hiring slows down, this is going to be devastating in three years,” he said.
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