What we can expect about legal education and the Class of 2019

Much has been written about the "bottoming out" of the law school applicant pool, as schools have experienced a small uptick in applicants over last year. It's true. But I'll offer a few visualizations of where things stand this year for the incoming Class of 2019 and where it stands in relation to recent history.

Jerry Organ over at the Legal Whiteboard recently offered some helpful thoughts about what we might expect. For one, the quality of this year's applicant pool is up somewhat. The visualization below shows the year-over-year change in applicants in each LSAT band, with the raw total of applicants beside each figure. (This is probably slightly more than 90% of the applicants for this cycle.)

Good news right? Applicant quality is up. But as I noted earlier this year, a problem is that the nationwide applicant quality for the Class of 2018 was down. Here's what that data, year-over-year, looks like.

This year's gains in the quality of the applicant pool, then, roughly offset the declines in the quality of the applicant pool last year. So the Class of 2019 will look more like the Class of 2017.

But it's also worth noting that despite a small projected uptick in applicants, the total incoming class will also look like the Class of 2017--and be demonstrably smaller than recent classes before that. Here's the high-level overview (sorry for the non-zero Y-axis, but it demonstrates the relative change in various groups).

Good news for law schools? LSAT test-takers are up in quantity and quality, as are applicants (and probably matriculants). The bad news? It's not nearly what it was several years ago. The projected JD matriculant Class of 2019 shows this, too.

Law schools can breathe easy, in that applicants and matriculants will have been relatively steady for a few years now. But absent a projected surge in applicants--and not by a couple of percentage points, but by something like 20-30%--this is the new normal for law schools (although, I feel as though the word "new normal" has been tossed about for quite some time). While it may be a fool's errand to project or guarantee too much, law schools may hope for a total matriculant pool of something around 40,000 or so--but it will be far from not only the recent peak, but also the previous historical average of around 49,000. For the fourth straight year, the incoming class size will be smaller than 40,000.