If you're the kind of person who keeps up with LSAT test-taker numbers (we are), then the news recently released by LSAC regarding October LSAT takers made you stand up and take notice.
Notice that there were a total of 37,780 test takers this past October (typically the most popular test date of the year), a 16.4% drop from last year's October test-taker numbers. Ever more of a shocker, the last time October LSAT numbers were in the 30-40k range was back in 2000-2001.
That information, combined with the information that law schools are cutting their incoming class sizes, has many students panicking. Is this reduction in LSAT test-takers and law school class sizes a good thing?
The answer to all of that is yes. Consider the following:
- The increases in LSAT test-takers is cyclical, and tends to coincide with the economy (either good or bad). When the economy is good and there are plenty of good-paying legal jobs available, the numers rise, often significantly. When the economy is bad, many choose to take sanctuary in higher education, and numbers will, once again, rise.
- The legal employment market has been notoriously bad in the past few years. The number of newly-minted JDs has shown no sign of stopping, while the number of legal jobs has remained largely the same, and often dropped (sometimes dramatically). Initial salaries dropped, as well, making it difficult for students to service their often-substantial law school loans.
- There has been a myth floating around for many years that "there's nothing you can't do with a JD." This is patently false. While there are many things you can do with a JD, there are also many things that you don't need a JD (and the often large amount of debt that comes with obtaining a JD) for. The fact remains that the one thing that JD is good for is practicing law. In other words: If you don't want to be a lawyer, don't go to law school.
What this downward trend in LSAT test-taker numbers and law school class sizes is telling us is that the legal market (both legal education and legal employment) is finally regulating itself. Those who were seeking refuge in law school for the simple reason of avoiding a dismal national job market have likely realized that it doesn't make sense to avoid unemployment or underemployment by accruing more debt (even if you do emerge with an educational degree), and law schools have begun to realize that it doesn't make sense to continue pumping more and more lawyers into a market that can't support them (or their debt). Although it may seem, on the surface, that this decline in numbers is a harbinger of things dark and spooky, it's not; rather, it's a sign that things are getting back to normal.
And is this also positive for you, potential law school applicant? Of course! Here's why:
- There's less competition. Fewer people taking the LSAT = fewer people potentially applying to law schools = fewer people per available seat. Voilá!
- You'll have better odds of landing a job that requires a JD once you graduate. Yes, the fact that there are fewer seats available when you're applying to law school isn't great (because it does mean, despite lower LSAT test-taker and applicant numbers, that although there's less competition, the competition will still be fierce), but it means that the market is not being innundated with as many JDs every year, which means there might actually be decent jobs out there when you graduate.
- When law schools get smart (about class sizes and legal preparation of their students), others tend to follow suit. Law firms will loosen the purse strings on summer associateships, 3L job offers start coming back, public service jobs aren't as scarce. Things look brighter.
So, chin up, law school applicants. Yes, you could see this numbers decline as a bad thing. But it's not one. Focus on making sure that law school is the absolute right path for you (always remember that the key question is do you want to practice law?), make sure that you study your tuckus off for the LSAT (always remember that the higher the number, the better your chances of admission), and put together an application that is golden, flawless, and shouts to the world how awesome you are. If law school is the path for you, then fewer people taking the LSAT and fewer people attending law school is a good--nay, great--thing.