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Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession

December 2020

From UC Davis Law Review

This study provides a comprehensive analysis of recent U.S. law school enrollment trends. With two sets of JD enrollment data from 1999 to 2019, we discuss how the demographic composition of law students has changed since the Great Recession. We examine enrollment data by gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality, with particular attention to Asian Americans, who too often remain an invisible minority in contemporary discourse on diversity. We also undertake a novel analysis of enrollment demographics by law school ranking. Our findings include the following:

• Total enrollment has declined almost 25% since the recession and, despite a recent increase, seems unlikely to rebound to pre-recession levels.

• Women have outnumbered men in law school since 2016; the recent uptick in total enrollment is entirely attributable to more women pursuing law.

• Since the recession, Asian Americans and Whites have comprised a smaller share of enrollment; African Americans and Hispanics have comprised a larger share.

• Women, African American students, and Hispanic students are disproportionately enrolled in lower-ranked schools with lower rates of bar passage and post-graduation employment. It is thus unclear to what extent the changing diversity of law students will translate into greater diversity in the legal profession.

• Asian American enrollment has declined more steeply than any other group since the recession. As a result, the number of Asian American lawyers, after rising for four decades, will begin to stagnate in the year 2030.

• The number and percentage of JD students who are foreign nationals or who identify as members of two or more racial groups are growing. These trends have particular salience for Asians and Asian Americans, and they present increasingly serious challenges for collecting and reporting demographic data.

As a whole, our study provides a fresh and comprehensive empirical foundation for current discussions of diversity in law school and the legal profession.