A recent study published by Kaplan Test Prep shows that over half of the country’s law schools have cut their class sizes for 2013–2014, and BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School is no exception.
The study found that 54 percent of law school admissions officers report cutting their entering class sizes this year, a trend continued from 2012 when 51 percent of schools reported the same decline.
This poses a tough question for law schools, said Jeff Thomas, director of the pre-law program at Kaplan Test Prep.
“Since law schools are seeing fewer people apply, they have to make a tough choice,” Thomas said. “We are finding that most law schools across the country want to maintain their academic standard. So, rather than admitting more of less qualified students, law schools are cutting their class sizes instead to maintain academic standards.”
Thomas explained that when the economy bottoms out, law schools often see an influx of applicants apply to law school. People struggle to find lucrative employment, and they think they need an advanced degree to be successful.
“Three or four years ago, we saw record numbers of students apply to law school,” Thomas said. “But now, these students are graduating and still struggling to find lucrative employment. This is the first time we’ve ever seen that happen. This is the reason why less students are applying to law schools today.”
Back at BYU, law school admissions officers are seeing the same trend but are still able to hold onto the title of the second most popular law school in the nation.
“Last year we had 610 applications; 217 were accepted, and 139 are attending,” said Michelle Mumford, assistant dean of admissions. “BYU Law is still the second most popular school — meaning the school with the highest rate of accepted students who go on to enroll.”
Mumford said BYU’s admission standards have remained unchanged despite smaller class sizes and that the recent drop in application numbers should actually encourage students to consider law school.
“Overall, the reduction in applications creates a challenge for the admissions office but an incentive for the student,” Mumford said. “With less people to compete with, they have more opportunity to secure a merit-based scholarship, and the smaller class size creates more face time with professors.”
A reason for the decrease in applications may be indicative of the overall idea that law school is a challenging endeavor rather than a “what-should-I-do-after-college” option, Mumford said. Students are likely taking more time to study whether law school is right for them after beginning their first post-undergraduate jobs or considering law school later in their lives. This is the case for BYU law school student Amy West.
West worked as a morning anchor and reporter in Nebraska for three years before deciding to take the LSAT.
“My contract was coming to an end pretty soon, and I had to decide whether or not to renew it,” West said. “As I reflected on my life, I realized all the stories that I loved covering — trials, legislation, water issues, Native American issues — had some sort of legal foundation. I concluded that even if I chose to stay in broadcasting, studying law would be fascinating to me and do nothing but make me more marketable to employers.”
And West is right — law school is still a valued item on a résumé for employers.
“Today’s law school students are just as qualified as ever,” Thomas said. “The smaller class sizes and numerous hands on-opportunities make students who go to law school now more prepared and valued in the work force than ever before.”