Survey shows legal marketplace recovering from recession

Paul Cobler

For the first time since 2009, law schools are seeing something positive in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

This past admissions cycle, there was an increase in the number of students applying for law school nationally, and that positive trend was reflected in Kaplan Test Prep’s 2016 survey of law school admissions officers. According to the survey, 92 percent of those surveyed say they feel “more optimistic about the state of legal education” than they did one year ago.

“The survey speaks to law schools being optimistic that more students are going to be applying to law school in the coming year,” said Jeff Thomas, the executive director for pre-law programs at Kaplan. “Over the course of the past five or six years, there has been a truly unprecedented and historic decline in students who have gone on to
law school.”

Since 2010, Thomas said there has been an unprecedented number of law school graduates unable to find jobs, leading to fewer law school applicants over the past five years.

“When the recession hit, for the first time in history a lot of students graduated law school and couldn’t find jobs, that was 2010 and 2011,” Thomas said. “The recession that hit everything else in 2007 and 2008, hit the legal marketplace in 2010 and 2011.”

In Kaplan’s 2014 survey, 48 percent of law school admissions officers voiced optimism that their school would see an increase in applications for the following year. In the 2016 survey, 78 percent of those surveyed voiced optimism for the 2016-2017 application cycle, according to the survey.

Petroleum engineering freshman Sean Miller, who said he is planning on applying to law school, said he shares the optimism seen in the Kaplan survey.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Miller said. “The job market is looking up. Clearly with that survey that was just released, I think me and all my buddies are really looking forward to the opportunities that law school can give us both now and 20 years, 30 years down the road.”

Even though some schools are optimistic about the future of law education, 65 percent agree it “would be a good idea if at least a few law schools closed,” decreasing competition for limited applicants.

Chris Roberts, the executive director of communications for Texas Law, said it is important students use their best judgment when considering to apply for law school.

“Obviously, we are always happy about students applying to our school,” Roberts said. “We want students to make informed decisions and who are passionate about pursuing a law degree with us.”

Despite the positive message of the survey, Thomas said his advice to students considering law school hasn’t changed.

“A lot of students would go to school for the wrong reason,” Thomas said. “My advice to students is that they should absolutely continue to be introspective about why is it that they are applying to law school in the first place. If students do that introspection and can decide that’s where they really want to go, once they get to law school, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities in law school and they’ll have a much better more well rounded experience once they go there.”