J.D. R.I.P.

Law school enrollment is collapsing

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The life of a budding American lawyer isn’t what TV shows like “L.A. Law” once made it out to be.

Fresh numbers from the American Bar Association show US law school enrollment tumbling 11% over last year to 39,675. That’s the number of full-time and part-time students who started law school studies in the fall of 2013. Overall, enrollment is down 24% from the 2010 peak.


The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog points out that we’re back to 1977 enrollment levels, an era that predated the surging growth of lawyers during the 1980s. The jump in law school enrollment during that time was credited, in part, with the popularity of the television drama “L.A. Law.” As the New York Times wrote back in 1995:

The surge in applications in the late 1980s coincided with something else: the television show, “L.A. Law.” The hit program, which focused on a remarkably good-looking, diverse group of lawyers who led exciting lives in and out of the courtroom, was broadcast from 1986 to 1994, and increased interest in law schools in ways that recruitment brochures probably did not.

More recently, life at US law firms is more akin to the popular reality show “Survivor,” as the broader demand for legal services has never quite regained the pep it had before the Great Recession struck. That has meant real difficulties for those exiting law school. In July 2012, 12% of law school graduates from 2011 were unemployed, compared to 5.8% of students who graduated in 2007, according to research published by Moody’s Investors Service. And quite sensibly, fewer people want to get into the field at the moment.

Image: Moody's