Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

March 13, 2017

Law School Attracts Fewer Students Due to Economic Downturn

Print More

Correction appended

The number of applicants to American Bar Association-approved law schools declined by about 36 percent from 2010 to 2016, and Cornell is no exception to this trend, according to Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of Cornell Career Services.

“If interest is measured in applications numbers, then yes, there has been a decline nationally over the past nine years due to a number of factors including the economic downturn in 2008,” said Monica Ingram, associate dean of admissions and financial aid at Cornell Law School .

Sparrow added that the number of Cornell undergraduates who apply to law school after graduation has also decreased.

“The number of Cornell students and alumni applying to law school has decreased significantly,” Sparrow said. “For Cornell seniors and alumni applying to law schools during that time, the decline was even greater at 53 percent.”

But despite diminishing applicant numbers, Cornell Law has not seen significant changes in class size or post-graduate employment numbers, according to Ingram.

“For many applicants there’s never been a better time to attend an elite law school like Cornell,” Ingram said. “Our post-graduation employment numbers are almost as high as they were before the financial crash in 2008, and they are among the very best of all law schools.”

Ingram also added that the school resources and the future prospects will make law school desirable to attend again.

“Scholarships for competitive applicants and financial aid help mitigate the cost of attending law school,” Ingram said. “Our students are engaged and immersed in leading legal issues such as immigration, global business, technology and transactional law, cyber-security and government.”

In response to decreasing applicant numbers, the School of Hotel Administration, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology and ILR school have all assigned students pre-law advisors through Cornell Career Services. Though the College of Arts and Sciences once had a prelaw advisor, the position has not been filled since the retirement of the last employee, according to Sparrow.

“The [College of Arts and Sciences] has been considering its options for replacing that service,” Sparrow said. “I think they may be close to a resolution.”

Law was the fourth most selected graduate field among Cornell undergraduates in 2015, with approximately 8.7 percent of the Class of 2015 choosing the profession, according to the Class
of 2015 postgraduate report.

However, while law ranking among students has remained relatively consistent over the past few years, it is steadily falling behind professions such as Biological Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Monica Ingram as the Dean of Cornell Law School. In fact, Ingram is the associate dean of admissions and financial aid at Cornell Law School.

  • 3L

    The article’s title is misleading and reflects a lack of knowledge concerning law school admissions. Applications aren’t down “due to economic downturn.” Applications are down due to the growth and revitalization of the economy. Students went to law school en masse during the mid-to-late 2000s to avoid graduating college un (or under-) employed. Those days are gone; as you can see at Cornell, post-graduate jobs are “back.” Thus, there are simply fewer students willing to pay $61,000/year for a law degree.

    The title should be revised to reflect reality.

    • Andy K

      You don’t know what you’re talking about. The economic downturn was a direct cause of the reduction in the size of law firms — and hence law school hiring, and hence law school applications. The law firms adjusted to being smaller and didn’t expand back to their original size once the the economy rebounded. Also, the number of business deals and transactions have never returned to their original amount, which was another reason that law firms never grew back to their original size. So there has been a permanent restructuring of law firms. So, the fact is that the economic downturn of 2008-2010 is exactly why law school applications are down from their peak and never recovered.

  • borrisbatanov

    Spiro Agnew graduated from Cornell law.

    No absolute numbers mentioned at all. Ridiculous. Who writes this crap?

    • Solomonsky

      Bor[r]is, you are a “nattering nabob of negativism,” not to mention perhaps an “effete snob” in your ivory tower. Spiro was a Cornothologist, who could be seen often in Sapsucker Woods. While here, he evaded taxing classes.

      • borris batanov

        Dear Russki, Spiro was an embarrassment and only useful as Reagan’s hatchet man, something Trump could use, imo. His being a Cornell law alumnus by no means reflects well on the school. Have fun digging your way out of the snow. If only D.C., too, would have been buried under it.