Recent trends in non-JD legal education

I've blogged before about the rise of non-JD legal education. Law schools increasingly rely on non-JD sources of revenue (now, 1 in 9 students enrolled in a law school are not a part of the JD program, up sharply over the last few years). I've also expressed some concern about the value proposition of some of those degrees, particularly given the high failure rate of LLM graduates on the bar exam.

I thought I'd share a prediction, an update, and a new observation.

First, I predict that non-JD enrollment will drop this year, the first such decline in some time. I suggested last year that the new presidential administration might lead to declines in foreign visitors to American educational institutions. I anticipate that will be true when it comes to non-JD education (and foreign students are a significant portion of such degree offerings). Even though the "Travel Ban 1.0/2.0/3.0" has been ostensibly limited in scope and had significant legal challenges (in addition to naturally-expiring deadlines), I think these formal legal postures are quite distinct from the pragmatic effect that even the rhetoric about such immigration restrictions would have on prospective foreign students. We should know more next month.

Second, the New York bar is by far the most popular bar exam for foreign attorneys. This year, first-time test-takers from foreign countries had a whopping 57% pass rate, dramatically up from the historic 42%-46% pass rate in recent years. I don't know what would cause such an increase--more student from English-speaking countries; better bar prep; or any of a number of factors. But it's worth noting in light of my earlier concerns about the low bar pass rates. (The same kind of improvement took place in Texas: first-time pass rates among July test-takers rose from 20% in 2015 and 25% in 2016 to 44% in 2017.) Not all have secured a US non-JD degree, but many do as a prerequisite to taking a state bar exam.


Third, law schools have discovered online non-JD legal education. It's not clear how such degrees fit into the overall marketplace (any more so than non-JD degrees more generally), and it might be that such opportunities will offset at least some of the loss of other non-JD enrollment.

Indeed, breaking down traditional versus online non-JD enrollment in the last few years, online non-JD enrollment is up significantly, and traditional non-JD enrollment has flattened. Much of the most recent growth, then, has come from online non-JD degrees. While online non-JD degrees had enrollment of just 1590 in 2014, it nearly doubled to 2971 in 2016--and I expect is still larger for Fall 2017.

Only 38 schools had online non-JD programs in Fall 2016, but even that figure is deceiving. An eclectic crop of eight schools accounted for about half of all non-JD enrollment in 2016.


Again, the Fall 2017 figures will be released soon, and we'll see what changes to these trends have taken place. I remain interested to know the place of non-JD degrees and the future trends of enrollment, and I'll always happily report more updates here.