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Law School Enrollment Up Overall, But Not for Minorities

Dec. 12, 2019, 8:23 PM

Total law school enrollment rose 2% to 132,684 in 2019, but the percentage of minority students getting a legal education didn’t grow with the industry under pressure to boost diversity, American Bar Association figures showed.

“The aggregate first-year enrollment in ABA-approved law schools remains basically level with last year and close to the enrollment that we have seen for the past few years,” Barry Currier, managing director for ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, said in an email.

Currier said that the job market for law school graduates has stabilized, and improved in some areas.

The top six law schools for enrollment this year are Georgetown at 2,008; Harvard at 1,740; George Washington at 1,560; New York University at 1,379; Fordham at 1,267 and Columbia at 1,244.

The ABA’s annual fall enrollment data report released Dec. 12 compared year-over-year figures for those in Juris Doctor and non J.D. programs. Overall, J.D. enrollment reached 112,882 and matched its 2018 increase of 1.2%. Non-J.D. enrollment totaled 19,819, up 7%.

“We continue to see significant increases in the number of students enrolled in non-J.D. degree and certificate programs,” Currier said. “We expect the number and range of those programs to continue to increase and expect enrollment increases along with them.”

First-year enrollment overall fell by 107 students, or .028%, to 38,283. The report showed that 119 schools reported an increase or no change in first-year class size, while 84 reported a decline.

Minority enrollment represented about a third of total attendance and was down 0.2% to 11,871. The legal profession as a whole has been under scrutiny for a lack of diversity. It’s been called one of the least diverse industries.

The “gender mix in the 1L class is 54% women and 46% men; 31% of new students self-identify as members of a racial or ethnic minority group,” Currier said. “Both of these data points are worth mentioning as we continue to work to have a legal profession that is diverse and reflects the clients and communities that it serves.”

ABA Standard 509 requires law schools to make publicly available by Dec. 15 information about fall admissions and other matters they report to the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Schools must report information about bar passage data, employment outcomes, enrollment by gender and race, and admissions data.

The Section on Legal Education is the only national accrediting agency for law schools. It has come under fire for its accreditation practices, with some calling it a “black box” because outsiders don’t know how accreditation criteria, including program curriculum, faculty, student retention, and bar passage rates are reviewed, weighted, and enforced.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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