Data released this month by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar show only slight fluctuations in first-year and overall law school enrollment in 2019 from the year before, suggesting the number of students at ABA-approved law schools is leveling out.
The 203 law schools approved by the ABA to confer the J.D. degree reported total enrollment of 112,882 for the fall term — an increase of 1,321 students or 1.2% from 2018. However, these schools aggregately reported that 38,283 students began studies — a decrease of 107 students or a sliver of a percent lower than the year before.
Altogether, 84 law schools reported smaller 1L classes for this admissions cycle and 119 schools reported an increase or no change in their new 1L classes compared to 2018. This is a marked change from earlier in the decade, when the number of new law students dropped 29 percent from 2010 to 2015.
Barry Currier, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, said the new data show non-J.D. programs continue to grow and more women continue to attend law school. The report shows that an additional 19,819 students were enrolled in other than J.D. degree programs, such as LL.M., masters and certificate programs, representing an increase of 7% from the previous year.
“We expect the number and range of those programs to continue to increase, and expect enrollment increases along with them,” Currier said.
He noted the gender mix in the 1L class is 54% women and 46% men, with about a third of the new students self-identifying as members of a racial or ethnic minority group.
Each year, the section collects and reports data in several categories, covering admissions, tuition and living costs, financial aid, class and faculty demographics, employment outcomes, bar passage and other areas. All ABA-approved law schools are required to provide the material under Standard 509 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. Data on bar passage rates and employment will be released next year.
The council of the section is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the national accrediting agency for programs leading to the J.D. degree.