Despite a turbulent job market that has caused many prospective students to question the value of a law degree, the Cornell Law School is reporting a strong cycle of applicants this year.
“We’re actually coming off of two record-breaking years for application volume,” said Richard Geiger, associate dean of communications and enrollment for the Cornell Law School. “The current application season isn’t completely over yet, but it looks like we’re going to drop from those levels to about where we were three years ago, which was still a very strong year for us.”
Last year, the law school received more than 6,000 applications for approximately 205 seats in the first year J.D. class, according to the Law School’s website. Official admissions data for this year has not yet been released, but admissions rates have become increasingly competitive in recent years, Geiger said.
“In the last several years, our acceptance rate has … gone down because of the large increase in applications,” he said. “At the same time, our medians for the LSAT score and GPA have risen slightly.”
Still, Prof. Josh Chafetz, law, cautioned potential students against choosing law school if they are uncertain about a career practicing law.
“If a student is unsure about law school, I would say that they should do something else, maybe work and take the time to figure out what it is that they do want to do,” Chafetz said. “Law school is a big investment of both time and money. It’s not an automatic road to riches.”
Although hiring rates have decreased in recent years, Chafetz said that the trend may be reversing.
“My sense is that law firm hiring is improving,” he said. “The Class of 2010 … had a lot of trouble, but it’s gotten better since then. Students may not be getting their first choice jobs now, but they do seem to be getting jobs that they’re happy with.”
According to the law school’s website, 99 percent of polled students who graduated in 2006 and 2007, 98 percent of 2008 graduates, 97 percent of 2009 graduates and 99 percent of 2010 graduates are employed. The overwhelming majority work in private practice, but some pursue careers in business, judicial clerkships, government or military work.
Still, Geiger said that current students are still worried about their career opportunities.
“The students we’re admitting now are more concerned about their prospects for the future,” than were students who attended law school before the recession, Geiger added.Chafetz, who came to Cornell in 2008, said that students do not seem to be as “nervous and on edge” as they were when he first began teaching.
He said that although the national market for lawyers is improving only slightly, Cornell law graduates as a whole tend to be “relatively better” off in the job market than the general population of new lawyers.
“Law schools further down the food chain are having trouble placing their students,” Chafetz said. “Law schools have an obligation to be honest, and a few have been actually lying or obscuring the data about job placement. One long-term effect [of the reduced jobs for lawyers] might be some of these other, ‘lower-on-the-food-chain’ schools going out of business.”
However, he added that he thought the recent string of lawsuits placed by students against law schools after they failed to obtain jobs are “frivolous.” Though Chafetz said he believes some law schools were guilty of presenting fraudulent job placement statistics to prospective students, the lawsuits stem primarily from student frustrations and misunderstandings, rather than intentional deception on the part of the schools.
Chafetz also said that for many students, the purpose of a law degree is not always to launch a career in law.
“In American culture, a law degree is seen as sort of an all-around finishing degree,” he said. “Leaders in business and politics usually have law degrees.”Prof. Stephen Garvey, law, said he thinks students should pursue law degrees if they believe that practicing law would be rewarding to them.
“There’s value to a law degree other than a job offer from a big-name firm,” Garvey said. “A law degree enables people to think critically, see both sides of an issue and apply rules to fact.”
Geiger echoed this sentiment, saying that the current economic climate has only enhanced the value of a law degree.
“We have worked harder to make the case that it’s precisely when times are difficult that the high-quality legal education available from an elite law school like ours will pay the biggest dividends,” Geiger said.