Fewer people are interested in going to law school. The Great Recession has curtailed hiring for legal jobs and so college graduates are taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in smaller numbers; the National Law Journal reports a 25 percent decline in the number of people applying to law school. What are the law schools to do?
As an example of how this might work, consider the case of Vermont Law School. It’s the only law school in the state, but it’s also a very small state (less than 700,000 people) with relatively few legal jobs available. The school has virtually no national reputation. And so it’s getting smaller.
According to an Associated Press article by David Gram in the Rutland Herald:
Vermont Law School is offering voluntary buyouts to staff and may do so soon with faculty as it prepares for what its president and dean says are revolutions about to sweep both the legal profession and higher education.
The class due to graduate in the spring with juris doctor degrees numbers just over 200. The class that will follow it in 2014 numbers about 150.
The law school’s “voluntary staff layoffs” will attempt to address a $3.3 million budget shortfall. Graduates of the school have an average student debt of $127,914 upon graduation and only about half of the school’s 2009 graduates obtained a job that required a law degree.
It’s perhaps also worth pointing out that Vermont is one of seven states in the union where one doesn’t actually need to go to law school to practice law. It allows aspiring lawyers to apprentice under practicing attorneys and take the bar examination on their own.
Staff layoffs come first. The next step is faculty layoffs. As the school’s president, Marc Mihaly, explained “When our enrollment goes down, we have to downsize.”
This is an understandable, indeed the only responsible, choice. Note however, that a significant increase in the number of unemployed lawyers in the state will make job prospects for future VLS graduates even worse.