Oct 042011
Authors: Jenna Ross McClatchy-Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Law school is no longer a sure bet. Would-be students are noticing.

The swell of students applying to law school — despite growing debt and contracting job prospects — has slowed. Prospective students have read the bad news, are asking tougher questions and, more often, are declining to apply.

Admissions officers say that’s not a bad thing: The students starting this fall are more “focused.”

“Frankly, for many years, there were many students who went to law school because they didn’t know what to do,” said Cari Haaland, assistant dean of admissions for the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “Now, prospective students are thinking more critically about the decision.”

There’s evidence demand will shrink further. New data show a dramatic 18.7 percent decline in the number of students who took the Law School Admission Test this summer compared to the same time last year.

The job market for law school graduates is the worst it’s been since the mid-1990s. Both the employment rate and the starting salary fell dramatically for the class of 2010, new reports by the National Association for Law Placement show. Meanwhile, debt rises. The average amount run up while at one of Minnesota’s four law schools now exceeds $90,000.

“In the aggregate, this class is going to have a harder time paying down its debt than classes before it,” said James Leipold, the national association’s executive director.

New law students say they’re aware of the data, but are sure of their abilities and hopeful the market will have improved by the time they graduate. Several said that their goal has never been to nab a high-paying job at one of the big law firms, which perhaps have been hardest hit by the recession.

Still, “it is discouraging,” said Cassie Benson, 25, a “1L” at William Mitchell College of Law. “Everything on the Internet is ‘Don’t go to law school.’ But I have to be confident that this is right for me, and that there are lots of people and alumni who want to help.”

During the recession, more people applied to law school, according to the Law School Admission Council. But then for fall 2011, the number of applications nationwide dropped 9.9 percent, according to the Law School Admission Council, to the lowest total number in at least nine years. The number of people taking the LSAT took a dive.

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