Law schools see applications dip as 2023 cycle gets off to slow start


(Reuters) – Early applicant data suggests law school may not be an especially hot ticket in 2023.

As of Oct. 13, the number of law school applicants was down 12% compared to this time last year, according to the Law School Admission Council. The council cautioned that it is still early in the application cycle and that applicant volumes can be “highly volatile” at this time of year.

But even if the pace increases, the current double-digit applicant decline signals it will be unlikely to match 2021’s frenzied cycle, when the number of people seeking to go to law school amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a sluggish job market for new college graduates spiked 13% — an unprecedented increase.

“I do think this cycle will be down,” said University of Michigan senior assistant dean Sarah Zearfoss, noting that the past two years have seen high volumes of applicants and this year will likely represent a return to historical norms.

Zearfoss predicted that Michigan Law will receive between 5,000 and 5,500 applications this cycle, compared to applicant pools of more than 6,000 and 7,000 the previous two years.

The early applicant figures are good news for this year’s crop of aspiring lawyers because they are likely to face less competition, said law school admissions consultant Mike Spivey. But their situation may not ultimately be as favorable as the early numbers suggest, he added. The highly competitive 2021 application season prompted many of 2022’s applicants to submit their materials as soon as the cycle began. Many of this year’s aspiring law students may wait longer to send in their applications because the previous cycle was not as competitive as it was two years ago, Spivey said.

That suggests the year-over-year applicant decline will diminish over time.

“It might bounce around a lot,” Spivey said. “My best guess is that [the applicant pool] will end up down around 1% to 5%. The pendulum is swinging back toward normalcy. It’s going to be a lot different than the last two cycles — better for applicants and more competitive for law schools.”

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