There are several ways to measure demand for legal education. First-year enrollment is one method, although that metric is more aptly described as the resting point between supply (law school seats) and demand (prospective students). Four other (imperfect) methods are total applicants, the national acceptance rate, total LSAT administrations, and high LSAT scorer behavior.
The number of people applying to law school has decreased significantly over the past decade. After the 2001 recession, law schools succeeded in attracting a very high number of applicants. Once demand cooled, applicants were steady between 2005 and 2010. But as a national media narrative took hold that the legal job market was not as strong as once believed, demand decreased drastically in sequential years, bottoming out in 2014-2015. Since 2013, the number of applicants has been steady.
Data starting in 2015-16 include applicants for all terms (rather than just the fall term, as it was prior) and do not include deferrals. Deferrals are defined as "applicants admitted for a prior term who were granted a postponed enrollment to the current term." Before 2015, deferrals were included.
National Acceptance Rate
The number of people admitted to at least one law school remained relatively flat between the 2002-2003 academic year and the 2010-2011 academic year, so getting into law school became easier over time because the number of applicants decreased. With demand dropping so sharply in recent years, schools relaxed their admissions standards. It is now much easier to get into law school than it was previously.
Total LSAT Administrations
Using total LSAT test administrations (which includes repeat test-takers) as a demand measurement, demand declined 41.7% between the 2009-10 admissions cycle and 2014-15. Since then, demand has rebounded each year, though demand is substantially lower than the recent past.
Comparing the 2014-15 low to previous lows is complicated by a June 2006 policy change by the ABA. Prior, the ABA asked law schools for each new student's average LSAT score. Under the new policy, law schools report only the highest score. This incentivized test-takers to take the LSAT multiple times, as there was no longer any penalty for doing so. In December 2006, the third of four tests administered for the 2006-07 admissions cycle, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) observed an uptick in test repeaters. As such, data from the 2006-07 cycle reflect two different policies. The admissions cycle of 2007-08 is the first cycle in which all tests were administered under the ABA's new policy. The total LSATs administrations metric makes comparisons between years with different test-reporing policies less meaningful.
In May 2017, LSAC announced a change to its policy that limited test-takers to three attempts in any two-year period. Starting with the September 2017 administration of the LSAT, there is no longer any limitation on the number of attempts. As with the June 2006 policy change, this change will inflate the raw number of test administrations, which makes it less valuable as a metric for law school demand.
High LSAT Scorer Behavior
A reduction in the number of high LSAT scorers applying to law school follows naturally from a decline in the total number of LSATs administered. Fewer people taking the LSAT means fewer people scoring in the highest score bands. Despite this, high LSAT scorers have decided against applying to law school at greater rates than their lower-scoring peers. Using an LSAT score of 150 as a dividing line, those scoring 150 or higher declined at more than double the rate of those scoring less than 150.
Note These numbers do not track total applicant data exactly.
About the Data
ABA, LSAC, Spivey Consulting (via-ish LSAC)