Competitive Data Trends for Great Lakes and Midwest Law Schools 2012-2015
19 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 8, 2016
In the Great Lakes and Midwest region from which most of the law schools in this analysis draw their applicants and attract employers for their graduates, the population demographics are declining or static. The “Great Lakes” region represents a declining law school applicant base and the situation is likely worse than has been suggested. The limited applicant base of the overall Great Lakes/Midwest area, coupled with a saturated employment and earnings market for lawyers compared to the costs of attending law school and career earnings expectations, means that many law schools in the region are in a “survival of the fittest” mode. The dynamics are even worse than appear on the surface because the applicant decline is not only in absolute numbers but the reduced quality of applicants as measured by performance on the LSAT. The decline is not only in terms of the absolute numbers of people and the quality of applicants but in an increasingly negative skewing of the primary age ranges from which students can be expected to apply and enroll in a law school. Projections for Ohio and Michigan indicate that potential applicants in the target age ranges are steadily declining, contributing to a progressively smaller applicant pool for the region’s law schools.
As if these prospects are not sufficiently bleak, there is a continuing reduction in traditional legal employment opportunities in the Great Lakes/Midwest region. One analysis of what is occurring presented national and state-by-state data related to legal employment trends between 2007 and 2013. The picture is not pretty in the “Rust Belt” region into which most of the law schools discussed below send their graduates. The analysis offers data that show the job trends in 2010 and 2013 based on the number of available positions and the number of law graduates in specific states. This indicates the discrepancy between a specific area’s need for lawyers and the oversupply being delivered by law schools. The picture is not pretty for the Great Lakes/Midwest region.
Most of the law schools in the region are relatively “local”. This means that as the region’s law school applicant and legal employment markets shrink they can expect many of the more highly proficient applicants to law schools to make the decision to attend more “national” law schools that offer more sought after “prestige brands” presumed to increase graduates’ employment prospects. For Great Lakes/Midwest law schools the best “brands” are the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, followed reasonably closely by Northwestern, Notre Dame and Ohio State. While the region’s other law schools are not necessarily “lesser” in terms of the quality of education they provide students and even in the scholarly and public interest work done by many members of their faculties their status is considerably lower in the law school ranking hierarchy. The reality of lower prestige reduces the “lesser” law schools’ ability to attract top students and entice potential higher-level employers to employ their graduates.
We can expect most law schools in the region to reduce and restructure their faculties in order to adapt to the new conditions. The mix between traditional tenure track faculty and non-traditional teaching positions such as Legal Writing, Clinical teaching, Adjunct and shorter-term or defined Contract faculty can be expected to change dramatically as a matter of operational cost. Changes in faculty composition, status and terms of employment will also reflect an increased need for parent universities to adapt more flexibly and rapidly to changing conditions than is possible with a heavily tenured institution. Several law schools are likely to simply wither away.
Keywords: law schools failing, declining applicant, Great Lakes law schools, lawyer surplus, declining law student quality, low LSAT scores of admitted law students, law schools' distinct "competitive footprints", shifting population demographics, "local" law schools versus "regional" and "national"
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation