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This Chart Shows Why Law Schools Are in Trouble

Fewer people are sweating over the LSAT’s infamous reasoning questions these days. According to new data released by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the exam, the number of people who took the law school admissions test this October dipped 11 percent from last year; The Wall Street Journal estimated a 45 percent decline in test-takers since 2009, when the numbers peaked at more than 60,000.

True, the 2009 peak echoed the broader trend, fueled by the recession, of people flocking to graduate and law schools to wait out the shaky economy. But as New Republic Senior Editor Noam Scheiber wrote in a July cover story, that might not have been the best game-plan. The days of big law firms as stable—or profitable—careers are over.

For generations, the law functioned as a kind of psychological safety net for the ambitious and upwardly mobile. If you wanted to be a writer or an actor or a businessman, you could rest assured that law school would be there if your plans fell through. However much you’d maxed out your credit card, however late you were on your rent, you were never more than an admissions test and six semesters away from upper-middle-class respectability.

And it’s just as bad, if not worse, for those with fresh J.D.’s. According to Scheiber, “Five years ago, during a recession, American law schools produced 43,600 graduates and 75 percent had positions as lawyers within nine months. Last year, the numbers were 46,500 and 64 percent. In addition to the emotional toll unemployment exacts, it is often financially ruinous. The average law student graduates $100,000 in debt.”

Wendy Margolis, Director of Communications for LSAC, says since the council never interacts with people who don't take the test, they have no hard evidence to explain the decline. But she admits that the shrinking job prospects for law school grads may deter potential test-takers:  “The job market for law school is not what it used to be.”