Law School Crisis Getting Worse

News reports show that the law school enrollment crisis is starting to affect the viability of schools in a big way.  We’ve had the faculty/staff reduction stories for the past two years or so.  The next set of reports identified lower admissions to the schools.  The crisis there, of course, was whether to dilute numbers like LSAT scores and GPAs just to fill seats.  It’s all problematic as dilution tends to affect US News rankings negatively.  This, in turn, reflects on a school’s reputation which can affect application numbers.

Even as the application drop began several years ago pundits were predicting school closings and other dire reactions.  Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at the latest statistics:

As of 4/24/15, there are 317,748 fall 2015 applications submitted by 47,577 applicants. Applicants are down 2.5% and applications are down 4.6% from 2014.

Last year at this time, we had 90% of the preliminary final applicant count.

That’s about 232 applicants per accredited law school on average.  The volume of applications is 1550 per school, on average.  Nonetheless, successful (read qualified) applicants can only attend one law school.  The higher ranked schools get the benefit of those multiple applications.  That drives what happens to the middle and bottom schools.  There are only so many faculty and staff reductions a school can make before more desperate measures come into play.  Here are a few.

Consolidation

Hamline School of Law and the William Mitchell College of Law will become the Mitchell|Hamline School of Law with operations mostly on the Mitchell campus.  William Mitchel was ranked at 142 in a three-way tie and Hamline at 145 in a four-way tie.  The merger may reflect a better expense/revenue figure for the combined schools, but likely not their ranking.  The merger announcement was made in mid-February

The autonomous law schools at Rutgers Camden and Rutgers Newark are merging into a single law school.  Classes will be taught at both locations some 90 miles apart.  Rutgers-Camden was ranked 102 in a three-way tie and Rutgers-Newark was ranked 87 in a seven-way tie.  The merger is not with its own political ramifications as there was a failed (and highly unpopular) attempt to transfer the Camden school to Rowan University in 2010.  The merger announcement was made in mid-April.

Closing?

The most drastic reaction to the application crisis may hit the Charleston School of Law in South Carolina.  The Post and Courier is reporting on a potential sale of the for-profit school to InfiLaw which is owned by a private equity firm.  Questions remain whether the sale will gather the regulatory approvals that will allow the school to continue operating.  The alternatives are pretty ugly in any event.

And the Next One?

The latest school that’s in financial trouble is the University of Massachusetts School of Law.  The former Southern New England School of Law was absorbed by UMASS at Dartmouth in Dartmouth in 2010.  That move was not without controversy as there was a lot of opposition, most notably from private law schools in the state, over whether taxpayers should support the state in running what would beits only public law school.  The school was projected to be financially viable by 2014 with admissions doubling by 2017.  The figures reported by the Boston Globe [subscription] show that the school has an $3.8 million deficit with its incoming class slashed by a third to 72 students.  Projections show the deficit to widen next year.  The school is provisionally accredited by the ABA.

[Correction posted from $8.3 million to the true figure of $3.8 million.  I truly regret the error.]

Mark

One thought on “Law School Crisis Getting Worse

  1. Spencer E. Clough May 12, 2015 at 11:58 am Reply

    Mark,

    Thank you for the opportunity to respond regarding the Globe article on UMass School of Law. Here are excerpts from responses by the Chancellor of UMass-Dartmouth and the President of the University of Massachusetts System to that article.

    Chancellor Grossman issued the following statement to the Globe: “UMass Law is central to the mission of UMass Dartmouth, which is predicated on civic engagement that both educates students and serves society. This is a school that plays a vital role in our region and across the Commonwealth in expanding access to justice. That impact will continue to grow in the years to come.”

    President Caret issued this statement: “We are very pleased with the progress that UMass Law School has made over the past five years and admire its commitment to excellence and social justice, and believe that it plays a vital role by providing a public legal education option for the citizens of the Commonwealth. We expect that the law school’s enrollment and financial position will strengthen as the legal-education sector emerges from this particularly challenging period. That UMass Law has been able to achieve at a high level during this period is a tribute to its dedicated students, faculty, staff and administrators. We are committed to UMass Law and share its commitment to fairness and justice for all of the citizens of our Commonwealth.”

    Our Dean, Mary Lu Bilek has pointed out:

    Promises made, promises kept

    — The University pledged in 2010 when opening the law school that no state appropriation dollars would be used to support the law school. This promise has been kept. Not a single dollar from our state appropriation has been used to fund the law school.

    — The University pledged to return more than $1 million to the state through tuition remittance. This promise has been kept. In fact, we have exceeded $1 million.

    — The University pledged to strategically and steadily earn ABA accreditation. The law school earned provisional accreditation in 2012, which provides graduates with all the rights of full accreditation, and the school is working toward full accreditation in 2017.

    — UMass Law, unlike most public law schools, is built on a budget model that will not require investment when it is at full enrollment. This was part of the 2010 plan.

    Fulfilling a public mission

    — A state without a public law school, without an affordable pathway to create future lawmakers and justice seekers, is a state that is not advancing the rule of law and a civil society. A public law school is a public good and a fully-accredited law school is an essential part of a great university.

    — UMass Law is one of only a handful of law schools nationwide that requires both pro bono and internship and clinic experiences. This, along with other community-based initiatives, has resulted in 50,000 hours of service to the community, valued at $5 million.

    — UMass Law recently launched the only legal incubator in the state (Boston, New Bedford, Taunton) to deliver affordable legal services to low-income clients while also giving new UMass Law graduates experience in running a law practice. This responds to a well-documented (Boston Bar Association) need for attorneys to serve thousands of people who are forced to go to court (housing, family, immigration, etc.) without an attorney.

    In an article in the Globe on May 1st, incoming University System President Martin Meehan was quoted as stating that he would: “focus on improving the law school”. The law school looks forward to this support and the progress that will result from it.

    Thank you,

    Spencer E. Clough
    Associate Dean/Director of the Law Library
    University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

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