Paul Caron of the TaxProfBlog has noticed that law schools may have an enrollment problem.

Where Are All the Law School Applicants?

Connecticut Law Tribune editorial, Where Are All the Law School Applicants?:

Nearly every law school in America is facing declining applications. Nationally, the level of applications has declined back to the level of 1976. It is clear that this drop is a problem for law schools, many of which opened or expanded over the intervening decades. What is less clear is the reason for the change, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, and whether it is likely to reverse itself in the years ahead.

What is the reason for this dramatic reversal? Conventional wisdom credits two principal factors. First, the legal job market suffered a combined cyclical and structural downturn in 2008. … The second factor weighing against law school applications is the growing recognition of the burden of student debt. …

Is this drop in law school enrollment a good or bad thing? One part is arguably good: many young people applied to law school because they had good grades and board scores and wanted to keep their options open, rather than truly thinking through that a legal career was right for them. Now, in contrast, anyone applying to law school has likely given serious thought to the decision.

But the decline is also unfortunate. Unfortunate for the young people who choose not to go to law school, because they are missing what can be incredibly rewarding career. Apart from the studies about the return on investment in a law degree, the career can bring satisfaction and opportunities for growth and career changes that few other paths provide.

It is also unfortunate for the clients. How ironic that so many new lawyers have trouble finding jobs and yet the great majority of Americans cannot afford a lawyer? This is a classic market failure. Something structural is blocking new lawyers from practice arrangements that meet the needs of middle and lower-middle class clients. If some of these lawyers can figure out how to bridge that gap, they will find plenty of clients.

These observations would suggest that the decline in applications will reverse itself at some point. Big firms may find trouble finding new associates of the quality they need, and students may see more examples of successful new lawyers who have found satisfaction from practices that serve what has too often been an unmet need for services.