Law schools across the United States are facing a tough decision in light of decreasing enrollment numbers.
A recent The Wall Street Journal article stated that not only is the job market for lawyers still in bad shape, but the effects are catching up with law schools, where schools are facing the choice to either to cut faculty or lower admissions standards. These decisions have to be made to adjust for declining enrollments, as more and more students pursue other options with brighter job prospects.
Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, while not completely immune to the national trend, was able to keep its admission standards the same without letting faculty go for the 2012 and 2013 enrollment.
The law school has a class of roughly 175 for 2016, compared to the class of 2012’s 222 graduates, according to associate dean for faculty Christopher Fairman. The J.D. law program at OSU is three years.
“We have a smaller class size, but we didn’t have to cut faculty along the way, despite this declining enrollment. There was good timing, we had a lot of retiring faculty whose spots we simply didn’t replace,” Fairman said.
Fairman said in an email seven faculty members retired.
According to Fairman, the downturn for the market for lawyers came during the 2008 financial crisis. Inexperienced lawyers were coming out of law school and having to compete in a market flushed with lawyers laid off during the financial crisis.
Nationally, jobs might not seem readily available in the legal field, but “we have every indication that (the job market) is improving,” Fairman said.
The national graduating law class of 2011 had a 9.2 percent unemployment rate in 2012, while 10.6 percent of the class of 2012 was unemployed, according to the American Bar Association.
“Employment is the No. 1 priority at Moritz, it’s become a collective mission for faculty, staff, and donors. Students have a career counselor starting their first year, and we track our graduates to see where they go,” Fairman said.
According to the Moritz website, 81.1 percent of the class of 2012 reported being employed full time, with 1.8 percent unemployed and seeking a job and the remainder pursuing further academic study, working part-time or not looking for work.
There are more than 700 law firms located in Columbus, according to the Moritz website.
Some Moritz students shared Fairman’s optimistic outlook.
“The job outlook, it depends on where you’re looking,” said Kristopher Chandler, a first-year J.D. student. “For example, the Columbus area is really in an upswing as far as legal employment goes, and it only has time to get better for people in their first year, though I know people currently in their third year who already have job offers.”
Jason Tiemeier, also a first-year in the J.D. program, said most of the negative outlook for legal jobs comes from the coast.
“I lived on the East Coast and the market is just saturated with lawyers in New York and Washington, D.C., so if you’re not from the top one or two law schools, it’s going to be extremely hard to find a job,” Tiemeier said.
Tiemeier also said the graduates who have the most trouble finding jobs are those who are unrealistic.
“It’s the people who are ‘NYC or bust,’ or who only want to work for the top law firms and won’t compromise — those are the people having the hardest time finding a job,” Tiemeier said.
Being tied to a major research university has also allowed Moritz access to better funding during declining enrollment — that, combined with conservative fiscal leadership of the college and a healthy prospect for legal jobs in Ohio, has allowed Moritz to continue to be successful despite poor national markets for lawyers, Fairman said.