Applications to GW Law School decrease amid national downturn

Applications to law schools across the country saw the largest drop in 10 years this spring, with GW’s numbers taking a slightly larger hit than the national average.

The law school saw a 16.5 percent drop in applications, according to the most recent tally April 6, while schools nationwide saw a 15.6 percent dip overall, the latest data from the nonprofit Law School Admission Council showed.

Dean Paul Schiff Berman called the law school’s slide “essentially the same” as the national decrease, attributing it to “the general concern about law employment that has affected applications nationwide.”

“But regardless, the key issue is what the ultimate quality of the student body will be – not the overall number of applicants,” he said. “I fully expect that we will ultimately enroll a class comparable to previous years in terms of quality.”

A week after its March 31 application deadline, the law school counted 7,213 applicants – about 1,400 fewer than last year – a sign that the flood of headlines about a weak legal job market has turned students off, James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, said.

While students flocked to law school at the height of the recession in 2009 to ride out the financial turmoil while improving their skills, he said economic recoveries tend to sees fewer applicants.

“The rise and fall of law school applications this time followed exactly that historic pattern,” Leipold said. “It is not at all unusual for individual schools to have application numbers that do not exactly mirror national trends.”

Last year, GW Law saw a decrease of 593 applications from 2010 – about a 6.4 percent drop – while the national average dropped 10.7 percent, a contrast to the sharper downturn this year.

Law schools have come under fire in recent years for inflating records of graduates’ employment success, with more than a dozen nationwide – not including GW – currently facing class-action lawsuits.

Leipold said he does not think the drop in application numbers is directly related to the increasing number of schools being accused of publishing false employment information.

Sophia Sim, associate dean of admissions and financial aid at the law school, said the school still expects to have a “very good entering class,” based off of applicant’s LSAT scores, undergraduate institutions, advanced degrees and work experience.

Berman said in an interview April 3 – before the law school released application numbers – that he expected the top tier of law schools to see a dwindling pool of applicants this year.

The No. 38-ranked University of North Carolina School of Law saw an 8 percent slide in applicants, while the No. 48-ranked Levin College of Law at the University of Florida had a 10.4 percent drop in applications, according to the two universities’ student newspapers.

GW Law’s admissions office worked to revamp services for potential students this year, Sim said, including an effort to turn around decisions more quickly to put greater focus on post-admissions recruitment.

“From faculty phone calls, to inviting prospective students to alumni events, and having admitted-student events in Korea, we’ve been trying to reach out to each prospective student in an individualized manner,” Sim said.

GW’s first deadline for an admissions deposit is next week.

The law school has also initiated a number of programs this year to revitalize the student experience, including a new mentoring system to help connect first-year students with professionals, in addition to a long-term grooming of the school’s curriculum that began last semester.

“Unlike every other top 20 law school, we need to convince students that if they come to GW, they will leave with a set of skills, opportunities, experiences and networks that literally no other law school in the country could have provided them,” Berman said.

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