Faced with job market complaints, law schools accept fewer students

Jason Song / Los Angeles Times /

LOS ANGELES — Loyola Law School administrators once justified accepting extra students or raising tuition because the market virtually guaranteed prospective attorneys a high-paying job after graduation.

But faced with growing alumni complaints that they can’t find employment, Dean Victor Gold and other administrators decided this year to do something they had never done before: They accepted fewer students.

Loyola, southwest of downtown Los Angeles, took 20 fewer applicants than last year, about an 5 percent drop — and a loss of about $1 million. The incoming 360 students are about 15 percent fewer than the school has averaged over the last decade, Gold said.

Loyola is one of a growing number of law schools, including the University of California Hastings College of Law, Northwestern University and George Washington University, that are trimming class sizes. A 2012 survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep found that 51 percent of law schools have reduced their incoming classes.

The move comes amid a number of factors affecting law schools and students, including an overall reduction in applicants, a dearth of available jobs and students who don’t want to be saddled with huge debt from high tuition.

In addition, some administrators are trying to accept fewer students with low entrance exam scores and grade-point averages who could drag down schools’ important rankings in U.S. News & World Report.

The trend toward lower numbers of students began a few years ago. In 2011, fewer than 50,000 students started their first year in a juris doctor program, 7 percent less than the year before, according to the Law School Admission Council.

In the 2011-12 academic year, about 130,000 LSATs were given — the lowest number in more than a decade.

In California, which has about 21 accredited law schools, the first-year class at USC’s Gould School of Law shrank by 11 students last year, while UCLA’s is about 15 students smaller this year compared to last.

“It’s common sense,” said Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has written extensively about the business of law schools. “People know that a lot of graduates are not doing well and that (law school) is a huge expense, so they question if it’s really worth it.”