The results are in, and, for the second time in a row, the number of LSAT takers year-over-year is emphatically up. For the June 2015 exam, the number of test takers was up 6.6% over June 2014, and for the September/October 2015 exam, the number of test takers was up 7.4% over September/October 2014. This comes after a string of drops, often in the double-digits, between 2010 and 2014.
What does it all mean for those considering a career in the law? Well, first of all, there will quite obviously be an attendant uptick in law school applications. If you are considering applying to law school, you will likely be faced with a little more competition than last year’s applicants. Keep this increase in perspective, though: law school applications dropped dropped 38 percent between 2010 and 2015, so the pool of applicants overall will still be far smaller than it was five years ago.
What really matters – and what’s had law school aspirants worried for years now – is the job market for newly minted lawyers. I wish I could say that there’s a job waiting for every law school grad the second he or she steps off the dais at graduation. While that’s not the case, things have gotten better, and there is every reason to believe that they’ll continue to do so.
The recent data suggests a trend that’s positive, if for a less-than-positive reason. Within ten months of graduation, 71 percent of 2014 law school grads had secured a job that either required or preferred a JD. That was up from 67 percent the previous year. Before you pop the cork on that champagne, however, you should know that there weren’t actually more jobs available. Rather, the class of 2014 was 6 percent smaller than the class of 2013, which means that there were less graduates competing for a similar number of entry-level jobs.
The good news, however, is that this trend is likely to continue. According to the American Bar Association, the class of 2017 will be 27 percent smaller than the class of 2013. This has mostly to do with the financial catastrophe and attendant recession that peaked in 2010. Lots of people lost their jobs and headed for the safety of law school. And why wouldn’t they? A little debt and the prospect of lawyerly compensation in three years’ time sounds better than an unemployment check and a gaping, years-long hole in one’s resume. Total enrollment at ABA-approved law schools in 2010 was 147,525.
As the economy improved, however, that trend naturally reversed itself. In 2014, the number was less than 120,000. The circumstances that led to such huge law school enrollments are unlikely to repeat themselves anytime soon. Furthermore, it looks like the lure of law school is being eclipsed by the draw of engineering schools and other tech institutions. In other words, there’s little upward pressure on law school enrollments, and it’s likely that the recent glut of lawyers will continue to work itself out. Every year people exit the practice of law. They retire or change careers, and some die. There’s no reason to believe that any of that will change.
It seems that the bottom is here (but don’t hold me to that), and, as everyone knows, you should get in at the bottom of the market. Matriculation in 2016 means graduation in 2019, at which point the lawyerly glut will have, with a little luck, largely resolved itself. If you’ve been holding off on the decision to attend law school, now is the time to revisit the idea. 2019 or 2020 might just be the year you start a great career.