Enrollment at the Wayne State Law School is down from last year, and the current fall semester began with 148 first-year law students from a pool of 833 applications.
According to Dean Robert Ackerman, the drop in enrollment and applications is a common trend nationwide. In 2010, Wayne Law admitted 197 first-year students.
Academic experts cite the lack of positions open for entry-level attorneys as the biggest contributing factor, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. In a recovering economy, the loss of job opportunities means many students are looking elsewhere when pursuing postgraduate education.
“It’s been gradual; it’s been happening all along,” Wayne Law Assistant Dean for Career Services Krystal Gardner said.
The employment rate of all law school graduates, who had jobs nine months after leaving law school, was 86 percent in 2011, according to the Association for Legal Career Professionals, the lowest since 1994.
Law schools are taking different approaches with students to promote success given the economic times. Students accepted into the University of Miami School of Law, for example, were offered the chance to defer enrollment in July 2009.
“If you are just going to law school because you don’t know what else it is that you want to do, then that’s probably not going to be a good option for you,” Wayne Law Assistant Dean of Admissions Ericka Jackson said.
Jackson serves Wayne Law from a neutral standpoint by surveying the best option for each student. “It’s not my job to sell law school to them,” Jackson said.
“It’s my job to tell them what we have to offer them here at Wayne State in terms of their legal education.” Jackson suggests other avenues for students who are unsure about law school, such as Teach for America or Peace Corps.
“Do something worthwhile where you’re going to find out a year from now if you’re still interested in law school,” Jackson said.
Another emerging demographic that struggles with law school is the working student. “What we have found — particularly in these difficult economic times — we have more students who are trying to work and go to law school even if they are in the fulltime program,” Jackson said.
The American Bar Association recommends that students taking 10 or more credit hours do not work full time.
Despite the numbers, Wayne Law had an 86 percent employment rate for its law school graduates in 2010.
“Roughly 48 percent of our graduates were employed in long-term, full-time positions that require bar (examination) passage with nine months of graduation,” Gardner said.
Furthermore, approximately 85 percent of Wayne Law students are from Michigan and stay in Michigan after graduation, Jackson said.
“There is a recovery under way,” Gardner said, “but the recovery is best described, I think, as slow and tentative.”