Law school applications increased during President Trump's first year


After several years of plummeting demand for a legal education, the number of people seeking a J.D. has suddenly increased.

A recent report from the Law School Admission Council shows that, as of mid-January, the number of law school applications submitted in the 2018-19 admissions cycle was nearly 11 percent higher than it was around the same time in the 2017-18 cycle.

LSAC statistics also reveal that 27.9 percent more LSAT tests were administered in December 2017 than in December 2016. Students who earned a high LSAT score were also more likely to apply to law school as compared with the prior admissions cycle, according to LSAC data.

Experts say the recent spike in interest in the legal profession is driven both by economic growth and the political news cycle. Improvement in the U.S. job market has made young people more optimistic about their career prospects and more willing to invest in law school, partly because law schools have recently offered steep tuition discounts to recruit talented students, experts say.

Also, since the 2016 election, many important news stories have involved attorneys and judges, and experts say these stories have inspired some young adults to apply to law school when they may not have done so otherwise.

"I think young people are again thinking, ‘I want to do that,’ because they’ve seen how lawyers can make a difference," says Kellye Testy, LSAC CEO.

Dave Killoran, CEO of the PowerScore admissions consulting firm, says that since the election, his clients have become more likely to cite an interest in politics when explaining their rationale for wanting to attend law school.

"Trump has had a galvanizing effect on many prospective students, both Democrat and Republican," Killoran said via email. "We see our students discussing specific policies far more frequently than in the past, and the depth of feeling they are expressing is greater than ever before."

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The most significant Trump reversals of Obama orders in 2017
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The most significant Trump reversals of Obama orders in 2017

DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA)

Signed in 2012, Obama’s executive order offering legal protections from deportation to children brought into the country by undocumented immigrant parents offered a legal respite for nearly 800,000 people. While it was not a permanent solution, many Republicans in Congress sided with Democrats in the view that children protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should ultimately be granted U.S. citizenship. But on Sept. 5, 2017,  President Trump put that possibility in doubt. “Make no mistake, we are going to put the interest of AMERICAN CITIZENS FIRST!” Trump tweeted ahead of an announcement by his attorney general that he was rescinding Obama’s action. The matter now rests with Congress.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

TRANSFER OF SURPLUS MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO LOCAL POLICE

In 2015, in the wake of what some viewed as the outsize police response to the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Obama issued an order banning the sale of surplus military equipment such as grenade launchers and armored vehicles to local police forces. On Aug. 28, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump was scrapping the restriction “to make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities.”

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH CUBA

Denouncing the Obama administration’s 2014 decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Trump announced on June 16, 2017, that he was putting travel and trade restrictions with the island nation back in place. “The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people — they only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said in a Florida speech.

(A vintage car drives past the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT

Trump has said he believes that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. His June 1, 2017, decision to walk away from the Paris climate agreement signed by his predecessor ultimately left the United States isolated as the only country in the world not onboard.

(REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/File Photo)

OFFSHORE AND ARCTIC OIL DRILLING

Making good on the long-held Republican slogan “Drill, baby, drill,” Trump overturned a 2016 Obama executive order banning oil drilling in parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic.

“This is a great day for American workers and families,” Trump said at a signing ceremony on April 28, 2017. “And today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs.”

(Susanne Miller/US Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout via Reuters) 

NET NEUTRALITY 

Obama’s rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet — aka net neutrality — were enshrined in 2015 with a vote from the Federal Communications Commission. But new FCC commissioners are appointed by whichever president is serving, and when Trump took office he installed new leadership, which voted on Dec. 14 to scrap the policy, opening up the internet to what critics fear will result in a tiered system of information and entertainment.

REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

THE CLEAN WATER RULE

On Feb. 28, 2017, President Trump began his assault on Obama’s executive order that expanded federal oversight of pollution in the nation’s rivers, streams and lakes. Trump’s first step was to order the EPA to “review and reconsider” the restrictions. Then, in June, the administration officially rolled back the environmental protections for over half of the nation’s tributaries.

(Yellow mine waste water is seen at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colorado, in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken August 5, 2015. REUTERS/EPA/Handout/File Photo)

CAPS ON GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS AT POWER PLANTS

Keeping a campaign promise to the coal industry, Trump signed an executive order on March 28, 2017, intended to begin dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required power plants to reduce carbon emissions. Trump’s new “Energy Independence” order also reversed a ban on coal leasing on federal lands and loosened restrictions on methane emissions. Several states immediately filed a lawsuit against the administration, claiming the move endangered the health of citizens.

(The coal-fired Castle Gate Power Plant is pictured outside Helper, Utah November 27, 2012. REUTERS/George Frey)

SCOPE OF NATIONAL MONUMENTS

Applauded by industry and decried by environmentalists, Trump signed an executive order on April 26, 2017, that swept away Obama’s use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect federal lands from oil drilling, mining and other development. “Today we’re putting the states back in charge,” he said at the signing. In December, the administration announced it would reduce the size of the Obama-created Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, and the Bill Clinton-designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50 percent.

(The moon glows over Indian Creek in the northern portion of Bears Ears National Monument, Utah, U.S., October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen)

BATHROOM PROTECTIONS FOR TRANSGENDER STUDENTS

One month into his term, Trump rescinded an Obama directive that allowed students to use school bathrooms that matched their self-identified gender. Trump’s rationale for the reversal was that states, rather than the federal government, should decide how to handle the question.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten decried the move, telling the Associated Press that it “tells trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”

(Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

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Austen Parrish, dean and professor at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University—Bloomington, says that the number of U.S. law school applications tends to reflect the U.S. economy's health, with applications rising at the start of a recession as college graduates rush into law school to escape a slow job market.

As a recession deepens, college grads become wary of attending law school, he adds.

“Generally, two or three years after a recession, you start seeing people go back to law school, and one of the explanations is that immediately after the recession, as things start improving, people are doing better in their own jobs, so they don’t bother going to graduate school," Parrish says. "But then at some point, they don’t want to put their lives on hold forever and for them to achieve their goals, they need to get a higher degree.”

Experts predict that the demand for a J.D. will continue to escalate even after this admissions cycle is finished and that law schools will become increasingly competitive over the next few years.

"As law school applications tend to be cyclical, I expect that we are in the beginning of a longer-term increase in applications," Gregory N. Mandel, dean and professor at Temple University's Beasley School of Law, said via email. "That said, given broader trends in the legal market and the extreme high before the recession, I do not expect that we will reach the level of law school applications that we were at ten years ago."

Experts urge law school applicants who are anxious about the sudden increase in competition to remember that they still have much better odds of acceptance and scholarships than aspiring lawyers did at the start of the Great Recession, when law school applications reached an all-time high.

Killoran says some law schools that reduced class sizes in response to a declining number of applicants may start to increase class sizes now. “If you had the numbers to get into a certain school last year, it’s very likely you’d still get in this year," he said.

Parrish, of the Maurer School of Law, says the recent uptick in law school applications is probably not spread evenly across all law schools. So applicants to law schools with large application increases will face much stiffer competition, he says, but applicants to schools with minimal application increases won't feel much impact from this trend.

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Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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