Law school enrollments are plummeting. What happens next?
This will have a few knock-on effects worth thinking about. The first thing to consider is that law schools have opened at such a big clip in part because they are cash cows for the schools that operate them. You don’t need a bunch of expensive labs, just some classrooms and some law professors. Yet students pay tuitions much higher than that of other graduate programs. Shrinking or closing law programs will put financial pressure on other departments.
Another thing to think about is what happens to departments like English and Political Science. When I was an English major, law school was the obvious backup plan if you couldn’t get a job–indeed, more than a few kids chose it in order to ensure that they had the best possible GPA for their law school applications. If it becomes clear that this is no longer a sure-fire rescue plan, do kids start rethinking the interesting-but-non-remunerative departments?
But the largest knock-on effect is, obviously, more unemployed law professors. Ideally, this will happen mostly through attrition–people who simply never get hired into the legal academy (note that this worsens the job outlook for law grads at least slightly). But when an entire school shuts down, its professors are going to be thrown on the job market. And it’s going to be pretty hard for them to find another teaching job, given those enrollment numbers.