Law schools in Connecticut and just outside its borders are among those reporting plummeting law school application numbers, launching yet another discussion about whether it's time to revamp the way legal training is offered.
Among those ideas: Allowing students to take the bar after two years of law school. If they pass, they could head into the workplace, avoiding the third year's tuition. A third year would be optional, but only students who complete it would get a J.D. degree.
Lesley Levin, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said the idea could increase the number of people seeking to make a career in the legal profession. "If the cost of law school is lower, it probably would affect applications," Levin said. "Of course, I'm only guessing."
Both UConn and Quinnipiac University School of Law have seen dramatically lower application numbers since 2010. So has Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Mass. At UConn, the largest drop has been in the part-time division, whose applications plummeted from 865 in 2011 to 235 in 2012.
"I think because of the overall job picture, mid-level executives are staying put and deciding not to venture into law school," said Ellen Rutt, UConn's associate dean for enrollment management. "Our evening division has taken a real blow. It's puzzling and distressing at the same time."
As of mid-January, 27,891 people had applied for seats in American Bar Association-accredited law schools. The decline represented a 20 percent decline over the same period last year. And the 2012 numbers, in turn, represented a 14 percent decrease from 2011.
Because the application deadline has not yet pased, UConn, Quinnipiac and Western New England declined to release applications statistics for the 2013-14 academic year, citing competitive concerns. They agreed, however, that the numbers are lower than last year's disappointing totals.
UConn had 2,066 applicants in 2012, down about 25 percent from the year before. Quinnipiac saw a decline of 27 percent, and Western New England 13 percent.
The decrease comes at a time when legal educators are scrambling to find ways to address both the applications decline and the record low employment figures for law school graduates.
"It's an enormously complicated matter," said Richard S. Kay, a UConn law professor who has pondered the issues of intellectually stimulating legal study and the practical need for hands-on training. "Changing any one part of the system, either the legal profession or the education system, may have unexpected consequences in unexpected places. So any initial reaction [to declining application numbers] has to be tentative."