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Hell No, We Won't Go!

Vivia Chen

August 22, 2013


Thumbs_Down_© Kaarsten - Fotolia.comAnother sign that the legal profession isn't what it used to be: The best and the brightest are increasingly turning up their noses at law school.

As everyone's grandmother knows by now, law school applications are dropping across the board. But did you know that the drop is even steeper among those who attended elite colleges?

Keith Lee at Associates Mind, a site that's aimed at helping young lawyers navigate the travails of practice, has been mining the data from the Law School Admissions Council. His latest finding: From 2008 to 2012, law school applications from Ivy Leaguers dropped by 27 percent, surpassing the 20 percent decline for all applications for that same period.

Below is Lee's Ivy League index:

2008 Applicants 2012 Applicants Change (%)
Brown 242 177 -27%
Columbia 231 190 -18%
Cornell 534 314 -42%
Dartmouth 195 171 -13%
Harvard 357 251 -30%
Princeton 209 172 -18%
U Penn 416 324 -22%
Yale 320 234 -27%
Total 2504 1833 -27%


Cornell undergrads registered the sharpest decline, which Lee interprets as a sign that they "must be really plugged into the law school scam scene." But if Cornellians are the astute ones of the Ivies, Dartmouth students get the prize for being the least attuned, because law school applications from that institution dropped by only 13 percent.

So who's eager to go to law school these days? We were curious, and asked Lee if there are any undergraduate institutions on that LSAC list that showed an uptick in law school applications. Lee was nice enough to crunch some numbers for us. The result: 17 undergrad institutions are seeing a rise in the number of law school applicants. The top five are:

1. Rutgers University                    +200.80 %

2. Liberty University                     +52.63 %

3. Sam Houston State                  +45.71%

4. Utah Valley University              +44.44%

5. University of New Mexico         +29.71%

The list includes a variety of institutions: better-known ones, such as Brigham Young University, but also those that are pretty obscure, such as Florida Atlantic University. (Click here for the complete list.) They are all regional institutions--not the sexy, brand-name institutions that Big Law parents typically aspire to for their own progeny.

Not that there is anything wrong with graduates of less illustrious institutions filling our law schools.

But it does raise the question of what this shift in the demographics of law school applicants means. Are we seeing the beginning of a brain drain in the legal profession? Or does it mean that the legal profession will open its doors to a more diverse pool of people?

I'd like to be a bit optimistic about all this, but Lee isn't so hopeful. He says that the drop in the number of applicants and the lowering of admissions standards will result in more people going to law school "[who] probably have no business being there."

What do you think? Will any of this affect the quality of Big Law?

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The necessary skill set is changing...rapidly..it's time to integrate other disciplines into the law school community...thankfully.

Here's a bulletin: Ivy League kids aren't "the best and the brightest." They're just the richest and most well connected.

On the other hand, it could mean there will be better trained lawyers in "small", "middle" and solo firms, as opposed to "big" law. Many less prestigious colleges are very good schools. I guess (yes, a guess) lawyers who did not attend elite colleges may be more inclined to forgo elite clients. This is when the middle class clients breathe a sigh of relief.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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