Current Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:00:16 -0500
Law students have traditionally had to worry about passing the bar exam — and for the past few years, they’ve also had to worry about finding a job in an increasingly crowded market.
Across the nation, law schools have suffered a dramatic decline in the number of applicants they receive, and UNC has reflected this trend.
Law school administrators have said the decrease could be attributed to the daunting task of finding work after graduation. This has become increasingly difficult, as year after year fewer jobs are available for the most recent graduates, said Jack Boger, dean of the UNC School of Law.
The number of applications to the school has dropped from 3,063 in 2008 down to 2,361 in 2012, and the acceptance rate has risen from 18.9 percent to 28.8 percent.
However, Boger said, this does not mean that the applicant pool has become less qualified.
“One of the things that we’ve had happen is that we’ve strengthened the entering class — our bottom 25 percent of the class is much stronger than it was five years ago,” Boger said.
He added that some of the decline in applications is likely from applicants the school wouldn’t have wanted to accept anyway.
The decline from 2012 alone is 36 percent, which could affect the number of enrollees, but Boger is hopeful that will not be the case.
“It’s possible, and we’re hopeful that it won’t be in an actual decline in actual enrollees,” he said. “We traditionally enroll between 235 and 250 a year.”
Boger said the rising tuition costs could also be a factor in lower application rates.
“When I became dean in 2006, in-state tuition was $23,051, and we held it to about a $4,000 increase over the first four years after I was dean — but it’s moved up $4,000 more in the past three years due to state budget cuts,” Boger said.
To counteract these increases in tuition, the alumni network for the law school has donated a significant amount of money for financial aid purposes. The school has increased aid in the past eight or nine years about 50 percent and has roughly $3 million available each year.
Still, many law graduates will have accumulated serious financial debt.
Robert Rivera, a third-year law student, said he entered law school expecting job opportunities to increase.
“I came in thinking it’s a bad drop right now, but it’s going to get better,” he said. “There was no way it could get worse.”
But he said he does not yet have a job, and he will graduate with debt.
Not all schools have seen such a dramatic decrease in their applicants. William Hoye, associate dean for admissions and student affairs at Duke University, said the number of applicants to the Duke School of Law has increased. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the school is ranked 11th.
“We’re at just about a 1 percent increase over last year,” Hoye said.
Ben Glock, a UNC sophomore who recently decided he doesn’t want to attend law school, said prospects of finding a job are slim unless you go to a top-ranked school. He said his uncle, who is a lawyer with a big firm, advised him to evaluate his options.
“If you go to one of the top 10 law schools, and you graduate in the top 10 percent of your class, you’ll get a job,” he said. “Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance.”
U.S. News & World Report ranks UNC’s law school 31st.
Hoye believes that Duke’s ability to help graduates find jobs helps attract applicants.
Similarly, students at UNC feel the University has a strong alumni support system to help with finding employment.
Peter Webb, a first-year law student at UNC, is optimistic about finding employment.
“The career services office does a great job of putting students in contact with alumni both in and out of state,” he said.
Webb is determined to follow his dream of becoming a lawyer and is confident job opportunities will arise.
“It’s like anything else,” he said. “If you start early and work hard, you can shake something out.”
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