Law school entrance exams down 16 percent

Harvard Law School graduates celebrate by waving gavels during Harvard University's 2005 Commencement.

Seems we're not so hot for law school these days. The number of people taking the LSAT - law school's version of an entrance exam - is down 16 percent this past year after a 10 percent downer the previous year.It's now at the lowest level in 12 years.

Analysts say more people are re-thinking whether law school is a good use of, well, $100,000. That's how much debt the average law school student takes on. One reason: The job market.

"There's been a lot of discussion about the big firms reducing in size," said Wendy Margolis, of the Law School Admission Council. "Some of them have closed."

Margolis added that government budgets are tight, too, "so some of the public law jobs are not as available as they once were."

Tom Baker is deputy dean of the law school at the University of Pennsylvania. He confirmed that a lot fewer people are trying to be lawyers. "We're fortunate at the University of Pennsylvania seeing a bit of an uptick in our numbers, but the numbers are down nationally," he said.

Baker noted a number of reasons for the drop off. "One is the economy is coming back - albeit slowly - so people are seeing other opportunities. And secondly, there have been negative stories in the press about the life of being a lawyer and the economic prospects for being a lawyer."

There have also been exposes of law schools exaggerating job prospects - making potential lawyers more skeptical.

"I think any time you've got a profession that depends on honesty and credibility of its members is a calling card to engage with things that call that into question," Baker said. "That's going to be harmful for that profession."

There is also a larger economic issue of fewer students looking at the price tag of an education.

"We're going through a time in the economy when a whole variety of professions are changing: medicine, law," Baker said. "And I think it's healthy for students to think about what they want to do and do they want to incur a lot of debt."

Still, Baker predicted continued demand for lawyers who are very highly trained and very highly skilled, and who are going to have to pay a lot to go to law school in order to get those skills.

"I hope some schools figure out how to turn out lawyers at a lower cost so that there are more lawyers available for ordinary people," he added.

So what happens if we end up with fewer lawyers?

"You know, I think that the world's going to do just fine," Baker said. "I really do."

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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