Law school applicant pool shrinks after blockbuster 2021

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  • Number of people applying to law school returned to normal after pandemic spike
  • Applications down 12% compared to last year

(Reuters) – The number of people applying to law school this fall declined 12% from the previous year, suggesting a surge of applicants in 2021 was an anomaly and not a new normal.

There were 62.520 applicants nationally this year, according to the latest data from the Law School Admission Council. That is down 8,592 from last year, when the applicant pool spiked 13%. It also marks a slight decline from 2020, with 864 fewer applicants.

“What we’ve seen is a rapid return — a more rapid return than anyone expected — to normality,” said law school admissions consultant Mike Spivey, who tracks applicant trends.

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Though smaller, this year’s applicant pool represents an all-time high for minorities, who comprised 43% of all applicants, said Susan Krinsky, the council’s executive vice president for operations.

Legal education insiders attributed the large 2021 applicant pool to a confluence of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact on entry-level hiring among new college graduates; the 2020 presidential election prompting people to view the law as a way to serve the public and protect democracy; and the shift to a shorter, at-home version of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) that was accompanied by a significant increase in high scores.

But many of those factors were muted in 2022, with more distance from the 2020 election and less uncertainty in the economy and entry-level hiring. The LSAT remains online and high scores are still up over historic levels, but they were down slightly from last year, according to Spivey’s analysis of the cycle-ending data.

Last year’s admission cycle was the most competitive on record, with some law schools ending up with far larger classes than they intended. For that reason, and because more people applied early in the cycle this year, many schools girded for another crowded field and were slow to make decisions this time around, Spivey said.

“It was a frustrating cycle for applicants,” Spivey said. “It was the slowest cycle we’ve ever seen, as far as admissions decision making.”

Spivey said he believes many law schools also significantly decreased the size of this fall’s incoming classes, in part to help maintain higher LSAT scores and grade-point averages — data points that factor heavily into a school’s US News & World Report rank.

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