In early March, the consensus within the law school admissions community for 2009 was that the recession had not sparked a noticeable increase in applications for the fall. At the time, the ABA reported just a 1% increase in applications across the board, leaving many to speculate about the reasons for the delay. We looked to the 2001 recession and the application trends that followed, as well as the difficulty in “throwing together” a law school application at the last minute and assumed that the big increase was still coming, but that it might not take place until the 2010 cycle.
It turns out, everyone was a little premature in their thinking. According to a post on its online journal, the ABA is now reporting that the number of law school applicants is up 3.8 percent for 2009 and that the number of total applications submitted is up 6 percent.
These new numbers bolster the notion that as potential applicants become more informed, they are increasingly likely to see law school as a best option for dealing with the economic downturn. Due to the scarcity of LSAT opportunities (offered four times a year, which is up from the two dates offered in the past, but still far more difficult to schedule than the GMAT), many law school applicants were unable to even complete their applicants until the results of the February test date were in. Others still were willing to buck trends and apply at the back end of rolling admissions deadlines, actions that run contrary to the cardinal rule of getting an application in early to have any chance.
Schools are also responding to this late charge by trying unorthodox admission practices. Columbia Law School has created a unique (and somewhat controversial) late stage process whereby they are shelving applicants and classifying them as “reserve” groups – withholding decisions until the end of May. Even a prestigious school like Columbia is playing a dangerous game by forestalling admissions decisions for candidates who got their applications in on time, so you have to believe that the surge in last-minute applicants forced their hand.
For 2009 applicants, this simply means more waiting and more jockeying among people on the waitlist. For 2010 applicants, it is likely a sign of things to come. Applications will almost surely keep going up as more and more people take the LSAT and have time to forward a compelling candidacy, and there are likely to be a fair number of 2009 applicants who do not have success and are forced to re-apply next year. All of which sets up 2010 to be one of the most competitive admissions seasons in recent memory. Of course, for every challenge, there is opportunity. Strong candidates with a clear sense of direction and those who can articulate their goals and motivation will stand out from the hordes of people applying out of panic and those savvy candidates will remain competitive, regardless of the increase in volume.