Quietly and without fanfare, the ABA 509 Required Disclosures website was updated with the 2015 reports. December 15th is the required reporting day, but you don’t see it mentioned that often. Law schools are required to post their 509 reports on their website by December 15th as well, but a number of law schools that I looked at have yet to do so.

I’m sure they’ll get around to it by the end of the day.

A note before looking at the data, I did not update the USNWR rankings for each of the schools. So the rankings listed by each school’s name is from 2014 (I’ll explain further on).

ABA 509 Data Change From 2011 to 2015

Click for huge version.

Click for huge version.

  • Same as last year, 98 of 146 ranked law schools have had double-digit matriculant percentage drops since 2011.
  • 129 ranked law schools have had matriculants decline since 2011 (+2 from 2014).
  • 17 schools increased in matriculants (-1 from 2014).
  • 1 remained even (-1 from 2014).
  • 1 school lost accreditation and no longer has to submit 509 reports (Humphreys) (EDIT: This was an error on my part, Humphreys, listed in the 509 reports as University of Memphis, remains ABA accredited. I mixed up Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law with Humphreys College Laurence Drivon School of Law, which is an unaccredited law school in California. I apologize for the mistake).
  • Largest decrease: Hamline at -65.37% (205 to 71). Last year’s largest decrease: Hamline.
  • Runner-up decrease: Toledo at -48.53% (136 to 70) Last year’s largest decrease runner-up: New Hampshire.
  • Largest increase: Wyoming at 37.68% (69 to 95). Last year’s largest increase: Wyoming.
  • Runner-up increase: Arizona State at 27.98% (168 to 215). Last year’s largest increase runner-up: George Washington.
  • 1 school had 50%+ decreases in matriculants: Hamline (-1 from 2014).
  • 10 schools had decreases in the 40%+ range: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Seton Hall, Rutgers Camden, Catholic University, Albany, UConn, New Hampshire, Toledo, and Hamline (+1 from 2014).
  • The highest ranked school (Yale) had a -2.44% decline.
  • The lowest ranked school (McGeorge) had a -22.67% decline.

Last year I commented:

Yes, but does all this mean?!? I’m not sure at this point. People have been saying law schools are going to go out of business for awhile now and it still hasn’t happened. Things certainly don’t look good, but I think it’s going to take a few more years of this before law schools start closing shop. Honestly, in 4-5 years if all the doom and gloom has passed, and people begin to talk about a “lawyer shortage,” I bet people will start going back to law school in greater numbers. I definitely think we hit “peak” law schools numbers a few years ago though.

Looking at the data from 2011 to now, the overall decline in law school matriculants continues. If I were a law school administrator, I would be nervous looking at the long term trends. But what happens when we look at the year-to-year data?

ABA 509 Data From 2014 to 2015

Click for huge version.

Click for huge version.

While the long term trend is down, the short term trend looks a bit better.

  • 61 schools had matriculant increases.
  • 28 schools had double digit increases.
  • 7 schools remained flat.
  • 77 schools had matriculant decreases.
  • 34 schools had double-digit decreases.
  • Largest increase: William Mitchell at 89.35% (169 to 320). What the hell?!
  • Runner-up increase: Santa Clara at 71.05% (152 to 260).
  • Largest decrease: UConn at -40.00% (160 to 96).
  • Runner-up decrease: Hawaii at -29.17% (160 to 96)
  • 4 schools had increases of more than 50%+: William Mitchell, Santa Clara, CUNY, and Arizona State.
  • The highest ranked school (Yale) remained flat.
  • The lowest ranked school (McGeorge) had a 14.47% increase.

But I’m of the opinion that the USNWR aren’t really that significant except for the top law schools. Outside of the top 50 schools or so, I don’t think rankings matter. If a prospective law student is going to attend a law school outside of the top 50, they’re better off selecting a law school based on a combination of scholarships they can receive and the law schools regional reputation – not a national one.

Above The Law Top Law School Rankings

Conflict of interest aside, I genuinely think AboveTheLaw’s Law School Rankings are a much better guide if you’re looking at getting into a top law school.  So let’s plug the matriculant data into their rankings.

atl law school ranking 2015 509 data

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From 2011 to 2015:

  • 42 schools had decreases.
  • 1 school remained flat.
  • 7 schools had increases.
  • Largest decrease: Seton Hall at -43.23% (266 to 151).
  • Runner-up decrease: Saint Louis University at -42.37% (295 to 170)
  • Largest increase: Arizona State at 27.98% (168 to 215).
  • Runner-up increase: UC Berkeley at 15.758% (254 to 294).
  • The highest ranked school (Harvard) had a .54% increase.
  • The lowest ranked school (Akron) had a -16.57% decline.

I think it’s telling that the majority of ATL’s schools are still on the decline. But if you look at the year-to-year, again, it doesn’t look as bad.

Final Thoughts

Right now I think we’re in a bit of a grey area for law schools. Still in an overall decline, but signs of a struggling comeback are starting to show up. I still don’t think we’ll ever return to the golden days of law schools (nor should we).

If the economy continues on as it has been, I expect we’ll see law schools to continue to make steady, small gains in matriculants, along with a few law schools closing. Yet if the economy slumps, or some other black swan event occurs that affects the legal industry, then I expect law schools will take the hit too and schools will go back into decline.

But it’s going to take a few more years until we know which way things are headed.

I’m going to kick the data around some more, so expect another update in a few days, particularly on the unranked schools.


Side note: If you are considering law school, this should probably give you pause. If you’re currently in law school, this should make you nervous. But if you’re going through law school anyway, here’s my manual on what to do when you get out.

Upon reading it, a federal judge said: “…if law schools wanted to be truthful about what they are selling, they should make every admission seeker certify that before mailing their application they have read Keith’s book.”

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