Holding court

Emphais: Education feature for The Memphis Daily News

Sept. 28, 2013

University of Memphis law school enrollment holds steady as nation’s declines

As has been reported in national newspapers and business magazines for months, the fall’s law school enrollment nationally is down from this time last year and beyond.

Andrew McClurg teaches torts to first-year law students at The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, where enrollment is holding steady compared to last year.

(Photo: Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The American Bar Association’s ABA Journal reported in August that “Law school applications for the fall of 2013 have dropped 17.9 percent and applicants are down 12.3 percent.”

But the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law enrollment is holding steady with 112 first-year students, the same number as last fall. Prior to 2008 and its economic slump, however, that number might have been as high as 150 students.

“I think that’s probably typical across the country, you look in terms of enrollment being down 20 to 30 percent from peak times is fairly standard,” said Peter Letsou, dean of the law school. “We’re moving roughly with national trends again this year. I think we did a little better enrollment than most did, but it’s very much a national tidal wave that’s hitting all of us.”

Law school enrollment typically shoots up in bad economic times. Prospective students often react to a poor job market by investing in education to acquire skills and become more marketable for the cycle’s eventual upward turn.

“We had a significant recession in the very early ’90s, and during that period law school applications shot up on the order of 50 or 60 percent,” Letsou said.

The recession of five years ago, though, was the first such downturn to affect the legal profession. While there were slight increases in applications for the first year or two, eventually the profession contracted and law firms began layoffs and cutting back significantly on the hiring of lawyers . . . (read more)