University News

Law school application rates decline

The high expense of attending law school in a risky economic climate may be to blame

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013

The numbers of law school applicants and total applications submitted nationwide decreased for the second year in a row, according to a Law School Admissions Council report released last year.

The percent of individuals applying for fall 2013 admission to law school fell by 13.7 percent nationwide. Comparatively, in fall 2011, the last year with available data, Brown students and alums applying to law school decreased by 24 percent. The University does not yet have data on the number of Brown applicants for fall 2012 or fall 2013 admission.

The number of total applications for fall 2013 admission to law school nationwide fell by 12.5 percent. This year’s smaller pool of applications could bolster the admission chances for Brown students seeking acceptance to law school.

The report confirmed concerns about the path to law school that have arisen since the 2008 economic recession. Critics have pointed to the financial risk of attending law school at a time when job prospects remain low, leading some to reconsider their law school plans. Only 55 percent of students who graduated from law schools in 2011 nationwide had secured long-term jobs in the legal profession, according to data from the American Bar Association.

The percent of Brown students and alums applying to law school who have been accepted has been rising in recent years, said George Vassilev, director of pre-professional advising and assistant dean of the College. Of Brown students and alums who applied to law school during the fall 2011 admissions cycle, 91 percent were admitted into at least one school, a rate 20 percent higher than the national average.

“Students and alumni have been much more methodical about examining their personal and professional goals,” Vassilev said, adding that he believes Brown students should reflect on their options before making post-graduate commitments.

Vassilev wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald that the number of law school applications from the University has corresponded to national trends in recent years. The number of Brown students and alums who applied to law school for fall 2010 admission, for instance, rose 33 percent from the previous year, which was linked to a nationwide increase in law school applications as more students sought out advanced degrees in the face of a difficult economy, Vassilev wrote.

Just over 200 Brown students and alums submitted law school applications for fall 2011 admission, a total that Vassilev wrote is “more typical of Brown’s law school applicant population.” He added that the 24 percent decrease from the previous year at Brown followed the national trend of declining applications.

Since becoming the head of pre-professional advising in 2010, Vassilev has implemented some changes in the University’s advising services for law school with the goal of helping students better understand the application process.

“One of the first things we did was to reframe the way we deliver advice to students,” Vassilev said, noting that his office used to be centered more on academic advising. He said he worked with the Center for Careers and Life After Brown to provide students with better information about law career options.

As part of this goal, Vassilev helped construct a new law careers advising website to provide information on multiple aspects of law school preparation. The website offers statistics about the admission process, describes different fields in the legal profession and lists upcoming law-related events on campus.

Vassilev said the University’s efforts to provide more information to prospective law school applicants reflects one encouraging change brought on by the new dynamics of the admissions cycle.

“There’s been a lot more transparency among law schools these days,” Vassilev said, adding that applicants are better informed about the admission process after criticism that law schools withheld too much information from prospective students. “Before, law schools found themselves in a very challenging position about being forthright with applicants.”

Students indicated they are weighing the costs of attending law school in the midst of continuing struggles in the legal job market.

“For a while I thought I wasn’t going to think about law school,” Hannah Begley ’15 said. “It’s scary to see how few people end up with jobs even from top-three schools and how hard it is to get six-figure salaries, even with six-figure debts.”

Begley expressed hope that a smaller applicant pool will signal to law schools that their price tags are inflated. She said she believes law schools may lower tuition costs as they witness a decline in demand among prospective students.

Though Begley sees the decline in applicants as a sign that students are growing increasingly aware of the costs of attending law school, she said that she still wants to apply to law school once she graduates. She said she hopes the number of applications will continue to decline so she can gain advantage from a smaller applicant pool with lower Law School Admission Test scores.

“If that trend continues, the number of applicants getting high scores will probably be lower,” Begley said. “So, hopefully, my shot of getting into a good school will be higher.”

Students considering law school indicated concern about the costs but said they plan to finance their education with grants, fellowships and scholarships.

“Many students are wondering whether it’s worth it for them to take out a big loan for such a career,” Cindy Abarca ’16 said. “But there are always scholarships available and ways you can get support.”

Despite being a first-year, Abarca said she has already begun exploring legal career options. She said she has attended several law school information sessions on campus and has already interned with a law firm that provides her with a scholarship to help finance her education at Brown.

  • Josiah Carberry

    All college students – even those at Ivy league schools like my dear old Brown – take heed to the warnings in this article. Law school is a terrible post-graduate option: it is overpriced, you will never be in a position to pay back your loans, and your quality of life will be crap even if you do score a job at a big firm (where the only prize for doing excellent work is… lots more work). There is nothing prestigious or honorable about the law – use your creativity and passion for an area that truly values it – law is not that place. Let me be unequivocal about it: do not apply or go to law school – it is an utter waste of time and money.

    • Shelly Gardner

      As a class of 2011 law school graduate– I so agree!! Don’t do it.