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The judge The judge's gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street Feb. 3, 2012. (REUTERS/Chip East)  

Law school enrollment drops to lowest level since the 1970s

To some prospective students, law school is no longer worth the cost.

According to the American Bar Association, the number of first-year law students dropped 11 percent in 2013 across the 202 U.S. law schools that the organization approves.

This year only 39,675 full or part-time students decided to enroll in law school, which is 5,000 fewer than last year and only one shy of the total first-year enrollees in 1977 — when there were only around 165 ABA-accredited schools.

“It is a big drop-off. … The wind has been at our backs for many, many decades, and we haven’t really had to operate like a lot of businesses, with adjusting to swings in demand,” William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, told the Wall Street Journal.

Only three years ago first-year law school enrollees were at an all-time high, with more than more than 52,000 potential lawyers starting classes. In 2010, with the economy in the doldrums, going to law school seemed like a good alternative to scavenging for a position in the meager job market.

However, tough economic times took a toll on law firms too, forcing many to slash expenses and lay off employees or halt hiring. And although the job market has shrunk, college tuition has not. Prospective students once considering a career in law are putting two and two together and realizing that law school may not be worth the investment.

Many law schools can cost more than $50,000 a year to attend. In a three-year program, a graduate who relied on student loans to get through school could wind up being in debt up to $150,000.

Prospective students still believe some schools are worth the big bucks. The country’s top law schools, including those at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, are still very competitive and have not experienced a drop in enrollment.

It is the schools that are not associated with large universities or schools that are partnered with small universities that are suffering.

Realizing the downward trend in the inflow of outside founds and the growing decline in enrollment, some middle and lower-tier schools have made innovative attempts to make law school seem more appealing.

Some law schools have lowered tuition, others have reduced admission standards, and a few have lowered class sizes in order to maintain the caliber of its students and preserve its ranking.

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