Thursday, May 28, 2020

New Study Explores the Changing Diversity of Law Students

A new American Bar Foundation (ABF)-sponsored study of law student demographics released on May 28, 2020 finds that enrollment in law school has declined by 25% over the past decade; there are now more women than men pursuing law; and Asian Americans, once the fastest-growing group in law schools, have experienced the steepest decline in recent years.

The study, titled “Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession,” builds on a 2017 report sponsored by Yale Law School. That report, “A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law,” was the first-ever comprehensive study of Asian Americans in the legal profession.

Authored by California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin H. Liu ’98 with Miranda Li ’19 and Phil Yao ’19, the new study provides a comprehensive analysis of recent U.S. law school enrollment trends since the economic downturn and financial crisis of the late 2000s. Liu also coauthored the 2017 report.

Findings in the study include:

  • Total enrollment in law school has declined by almost 25 percent since the recession. Despite a recent increase, enrollment seems unlikely to rebound to the pre-recession levels.
  • Women have outnumbered men in law school since 2016, and the recent uptick in total enrollment is entirely attributable to more women pursuing law.
  • Since the Great Recession, Asian Americans and Whites have comprised a smaller share of enrollment in law schools. Asian American enrollment in particular has declined more steeply than any other group since the Great Recession. After rising for four decades, the number of Asian American lawyers is projected to stagnate beginning in 2030.
  • African Americans and Hispanics have also comprised a larger share of enrollment since the Great Recession. However, women, African American students, and Hispanic students are disproportionately enrolled in lower-ranked schools with lower rates of bar passage and post-graduation employment. As a result, it is unclear to what extent the changing diversity of law students will translate into greater diversity in the legal profession.
  • The number and percentage of multiracial students and international students in the J.D. program have grown. These trends have particular salience for Asians and Asian Americans, and they present increasingly serious challenges for collecting and reporting demographic data.

“The demographics of law students have changed significantly over the past decade, and understanding these changes is essential to building a more diverse and inclusive legal profession,” said Liu. “We may see more big changes over the next decade, depending on the depth and duration of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

READ: A full draft of the study