Law school is not really very attractive to college graduates anymore. There was a time, back in about 2003, when I finished college, that going to law school looked like a pretty secure path to financial stability. Not anymore. Today the recession has resulted in a vast contraction in the number of available jobs (not that there were ever too many really good jobs available for law graduates). Law schools have a crafty way to get around this problem and stay in business.
College students are starting to realize the problem with law school, and so they’re not applying as much as they used to. But since there are still roughly the same number of law schools, and the same number of spots in each class, this means that if trends continue soon the total number of applications to law schools will be about the same as the number of positions available. Or it could get even worse, and law schools could actually have open positions.
And so law schools are offering better scholarships. It used to be that law schools could essentially make everyone got into debt to get a J.D. No longer.
According to an article by Chelsea Phipps in the Wall Street Journal:
For the 2008-09 school year, schools gave out about $816 million in scholarships, a figure that swelled to over $1 billion for the 2011-12 year.
Bruce P. Smith, the dean of the University of Illinois College of Law, conceded that the school, “like many other law schools,” had considered strategies to address the fact that the school’s tuition is more than many desirable students are willing to pay.
Of course, another solution to that particular problem is to just charge less in tuition. But law schools don’t want to do that, in part because they want to be able to continue to charge really high tuition to those willing to pay it. They also want to avoid appearing like they’re hiking tuition just because people can afford it again, which they might want to do in a few years when or if the economy turns around.
So they’re just offering more generous scholarships to more students. They’re also encouraging students to bargain for better tuition discounts. That’s sort of an unusual tactic in academic admissions but it doesn’t seem entirely inappropriate for a law schools. People who want to be lawyers certainly need to learn how to negotiate, don’t they?