Downward Trend Uncertain Job Prospects, Growing Student Debt Suppressing Applications to Law Schools

Article excerpt

Applications to Duquesne University's School of Law are down about 15 percent from a year ago, but dean Ken Gormley isn't scrambling to find more enrollees.

"We want to stick with our standards. We don't want to admit students to fill seats if they may not succeed and pass the bar and be able to practice law."

Duquesne is hardly alone among law schools experiencing a dramatic decline in applicants. Nationwide, applications fell by nearly 11 percent in 2011 and by almost 14 percent in 2012, according to the Law School Admission Council, based in Bucks County.

Despite those statistics and a legal job market that has been bleak since the economic crash of 2008, Mr. Gormley takes the approach that smaller enrollments and more specialized curriculums can benefit law schools and their students in the long run.

To that end, Duquesne has adopted course concentrations that allow students to focus in areas such as energy law, health care law and intellectual property, so they are better equipped to deal with a challenging job market.

The school also has added new skills training to its first-year curriculum and beefed up its clinical offerings that give students the opportunity to handle specialized legal issues for groups such as veterans and prisoners, Mr. Gormley said.

"We need to focus on giving students practical experiences," he said.

Across the country, the pool of applicants for law school admissions in 2013 is shaping up to be even smaller than the past two years.

According to data the council released last month, applications as of mid-January were down 20 percent compared with the same time in 2012. At that rate, total applications for the year could fall by 38 percent.

A combination of factors are likely contributing to the dramatic drop-off, said William Carter Jr., dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

"Certainly there's the down economy for legal hiring of new graduates over the last couple years. There's the issue of negative press in the mainstream, and the blogs about the economy and the state of legal education. And there is the issue of growing student debt. As someone still paying off his student loans, I understand that completely."

At Pitt, tuition for its law school in the 2012-13 academic year was $28,728 for residents and $35,704 for nonresidents and international students. Those figures don't include living costs and additional fees such as books.

At Duquesne, tuition for the current academic year is $17,317 per semester for the day program and $13,308 for the evening program. Those costs don't include living expenses, either.

Mr. Carter declined to disclose statistics about applications to Pitt, saying they "fluctuate from week to week."

"We're neither doing much better or much worse than the national trend," he said.

The school had 253 graduates in 2011, according to an American Bar Association report on job placement for law school graduates. …