Law Schools See Drop In First-Year Students

Law schools are seeing their lowest enrollment numbers of first-year students since the 1970s. It's partly due to the recent recession and partly due to the high cost of law school, according to the president of the American Bar Association.

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Could we be facing a shortage of lawyers? It hardly seems possible. But according to the American Bar Association, law schools are seeing their lowest number of first-year students since the 1970's.

NPR's Ina Jaffe has more.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: This year, there were fewer than 40,000 first-year law students, which still seems like a lot. But it's an 11 percent drop from last year, and about a 24 percent drop from 2010, when new enrollments hit an all-time high.

James Silkenat, the president of the American Bar Association, says the number isn't surprising. It's a hangover from the recession.

JAMES SILKENAT: It's affected all parts of the economy, the legal profession, in particular.

JAFFE: Jobs for people with law degrees declined during the recession. And since newly-minted attorneys can leave school with student loan debt in the six figures, law school may not have seemed worth it. Silkenat says the numbers point to a larger issue: law school tuition needs to come down.

SILKENAT: The level of debt, frankly, affects the kinds of careers that law graduates can pursue. It's very difficult becoming a legal services lawyer working in environmental issues or something where the pay is not, you know, at Wall Street levels.

JAFFE: Some law schools suffered greater declines in enrollment than others. Some bucked the trend and increased their numbers of new students. The Bar Association says it will release more data on specific schools in the coming months.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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