Even with the Resistance, It’s a Buyer’s Market for Law School

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In the aftermath of President Trump’s initial travel ban, ACLU lawyers became heroes—donations surged and people around the country (all right, maybe not so many people in the deep red states) applauded their efforts. Some suggested that Trump would inspire more applicants to law school, but the applications are about stagnant from last year. If you’re considering taking the LSAT and applying to law school, this might strike you as a discouraging sign for your career prospects. Quite the opposite, however. The longer applications stay stagnant, the better for applicants.

In recent years, the law school “market” has been decidedly in favor of the buyers (i.e. you). For some historical perspective, the years leading up to the recession were a “sellers” market. Schools had an abundance of qualified applicants, and they could be highly selective with their offers of admission and financial aid packages. When the recession hit, employment opportunities dried up, and an already over-saturated legal market became a nightmare for new associates—there were lay-offs and cancelled offers at firms everywhere. As a result, applications to law schools dropped off steeply. Potential applicants realized that attending law school was far from a sure path to a guaranteed, profitable job.

When applications declined, it benefitted the students who persevered in their decision to go to law school. Schools dropped their admission standards (some, like the top-14, did so far less than others). Students with GPAs/LSATs outside the typical range for those schools suddenly found themselves with offers of admission and financial aid packages that were unheard of in years prior. As long as applications remain relatively low in comparison to the peak years prior to the recession, applicants will reap the benefits of the buyers’ market.

As a word of caution, legal employment opportunities remain limited. Even though going to law school is potentially more attainable, it would be extremely unwise to take a sweetheart deal from a school with a weak employment record just because it looks like an offer you can’t refuse. There is a persistent myth that a juris doctorate is a portable degree that will help you in any career field. Nowadays, you won’t receive much of a bump just for having a J.D., and, at minimum, it will cost you three years of your life.

Students should take advantage of the current law school market if and only if they have the option of attending a school that will facilitate their potential future employment. If your numbers are strong enough to allow you to attend such a school, then don’t be deterred by the stagnancy of applications—law schools’ loss is your gain.

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