Duke law bucks the application trend

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 05:21 PM

Concerned about job prospects and soaring tuition costs, significantly fewer students nationwide are applying to law school.

In fact, according to the Law School Admission Council, applications are down around 23 percent from a year ago and nearly 40 percent since 2010. If current trends hold, the number of students starting law school in the fall will be the lowest since the 1970s.

Recent figures show that 86 of the nation’s 240 or so accredited law schools are seeing an application decline of more than 30 percent from the year before.

Only seven schools are showing any increase in applications.

Duke University Law School is one of them.

“The majority of schools have experienced declines well over 10 percent,” Dean David Levi recently wrote to the law school community. But “our applications are up over this time last year. Let us hope this augurs well for the remainder of the admissions season.”

With that season coming to a close with the application deadline Friday, applications to Duke are generally running “up 1-2 percent over last year,” said William Hoye, the law school’s associate dean for admissions. “We generally receive a surge of applications in the two weeks prior to the deadline, so I expect that our 2013 volume will be up slightly over last year or just about even.”

Hoye acknowledged it is “difficult to isolate the factors” that have helped Duke continue to be attractive to applicants while other law schools struggle. But he did point to a number of possible reasons.

“The last couple of years we’ve been doing a lot to make certain students have access to all the skills-training practice the bar is looking for right now,” he said. “We introduced a winter session three years ago that’s very much skill-based. That’s the kind of innovative program students who are worried about the job market are looking for.”

Also attracting potential students, Hoye added, is a new dual program at Duke, which offers a master’s of law degree along with the traditional juris doctor.

“This is for law and entrepreneurship,” Hoye explained. “We think this is a signal to applicants who are interested in practicing law in the service of start-ups. It’s a real growth area.”

Finally, he pointed to “the enormous focus we’ve had in the last several years on making sure that every graduate starts in a good way and that no one is left behind.”

Under the bridge-to-practice program, Duke helps students without a job offer after their graduation. “We continue to work with them until they get a permanent job,” Hoye said. “It’s really very comforting. Students are thrilled with Duke sticking with them and not letting go. I think that just gets out there.”

And Duke graduates have been reasonably successful in finding those jobs.

“While the employment picture for graduates is still difficult,” Levi acknowledged, he said that more than 80 percent of 2012 Duke law graduates had “traditional law jobs” nine months after graduation.

“Although these numbers are still not where we would like them to be, they compared very favorably to the other top schools and are dramatically better than the figures for schools — some very good schools — that are not in the top group.”