Counter-Cyclical Law School Application Strategies

Every couple of years David Bernstein writes a blog post I agree with:

the best time to buy real estate, or really any investment, is when “everyone” is saying it’s a terrible investment. …

If we’re not as this stage with regard to demand for law school, we are damn close, with applications running about half the level of six years ago. Law school certainly isn’t for everyone, and how worthwhile economically it might be for anyone in particular has to start with that individual’s opportunity cost and where he gets admitted…

But there hasn’t been a better time to apply to law school in a long time, if ever. Worried about going into debt? Go to a law school school somewhat below where your credentials would allow, and they will shower you with aid… Always dreamed of going to a top 10 law school? You may never have less competition than now. Want to keep your current job and go part-time, but got rejected a few years from the only law school in town with a part-time program? This year, they will probably take you.

Whether law school makes sense for you still depends enormously on what you want to do in the long run, and what your alternatives are. Even if this is the ‘new normal’ for applicant numbers — and I’ll bet that numbers will rebound substantially from this trough within five years even if they don’t go back to old peaks — it’s clear that for now law schools as a class are only making partial adjustments to the new state of things, part of which involves competing aggressively by offering scholarship money and/or lower admissions standards. Thus it’s a buyer’s market from the potential student’s point of view.

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6 Responses to Counter-Cyclical Law School Application Strategies

  1. Barry says:

    “Thus it’s a buyer’s market from the potential student’s point of view.”

    Incorrect. The costs of law school are still astronomical, and the career prospects still stink horribly.

    Please see http://www.insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/
    and http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/ for some figures.

    Roughly, this is the situation:
    If you go to a school with total costs $100K-$150K, your chances of getting a real lawyer’s job are less than 50% (probably closer to one-third), and if you do, your salary is unlikely to be more than $60K (with a good chance that it’ll be much less). the schools with 50% or more (not that much more) graduates getting real lawyer’s jobs cost up to $200K, and the salaries are still not that great. The $160K figure which is thrown about so casually is for the real elites, about 10% of all grads (and you can guess how few schools that covers), and they’re paying $250K on up law school, so even then it’s not a sure thing.

    This is not a good deal.

    (and to forestall the inevitable comments – it’s different at the top, of course, like everything else; if you are accepted into Harvard Law School, then go)

    • I don’t disagree that law school can be a dubious economic proposition for many, which is why I wrote “Whether law school makes sense for you still depends enormously on what you want to do in the long run, and what your alternatives are.” But economic value wasn’t the point of the post, which talked about chances of admission — something general — not whether you should accept, which is something individual.

      The ‘best time to buy’ a fancy house is the bottom of the real estate market. That doesn’t mean that you should, nor does it mean you can afford it.

      • Barry says:

        Michael, the entire question of ‘whether or not to buy’ depends on whether it’s worth it. Or, comparing it to the housing bubble, the odds are that a given buyer will get a serviceable house is still 50%, and most of the actually serviceable houses are far from worth it.

        We are not bottomed out in the law school market yet, and are far from it.

  2. Barry says:

    Another sweet comment, from the comments on David’s post:

    “If you are a sane member of the Rest of the World, you look at the carnage in the legal profession, note that though applicants are falling, matriculation is not. The same amount of finished widgets are going into and coming out of the factory, just with inferior input. You’d be a nut to think that this is a time to go to widget output school.”

  3. Barry says:

    Or let me rephrase: “…I don’t disagree that law school can be a dubious economic proposition for many,”, should be ‘…for most’.

  4. Scott Boone says:

    Most of the “action” or “reaction” at higher ranked schools is not in increased aid or lower admissions standards, but in increased transfer admissions.

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