Law School Applications Increase

Professor Sam Panerlla lectures on contracts Tuesday to a class of first-year law students. Applications to the University of Montana Law School have increased for the 2013-2014 school year, despite national decreases.

While applications to law schools nationwide have been plummeting, the University of Montana School of Law is one of just four law schools out of 200 to see an increase in applicants for next year.

As of last week, the University's law school applications were running ahead of the number of applications received at this time last year. That number is gradually rising while other universities continue to drop, said Lori Freeman, who oversees admissions and career services at the law school.

Freeman said students are getting a good deal in Missoula.

"I believe the reason the UM School of Law is in a relatively good position is due to increased recruiting efforts as well as the fact that we are ranked as a top 10 Best Value law school," Freeman said.

The New York Times reported last week that the number of law school applications is on track to hit a 30-year low. The Law School Admission council reported a 20 percent decrease in applications from 2011 to 2012.

Just two years ago, however, it was a different story. As the job market collapsed, people sought career training and some turned to law school. Jordan Weissmann reported in The Atlantic that law school applications peaked in 2010 at 171,514.

But the recession continued. Career prospects for new lawyers are murky and resources to pay for school debt are tapped out, Weissmann said. Young Americans have been stepping back from the stagnating legal industry.

Jordan Knudsen, the UM president of the Student Bar Association, agreed that finances and career prospects are a factor for young people considering an occupation in the law.

“Two years after the recession jobs are drying and students are starting to wonder why take on school debt,” Knudsen said.

While UM’s application numbers are up now, the law school has been on a roller coaster along with other law schools. Applications rose quickly with the rest of the nation in 2010, only to drop from 511 to 325 between 2010 and 2012.

The University's application statistics reveal that the most dramatic drop was in out-of-state students, while in-state students seem to show very little difference in recent years.

Freeman believes the consistent number of Montana residents stems from the UM School of Law's in-state tuition, high bar passage rates, and more consistent job placements in the legal industry, which is perhaps why UM was ranked number seven in this year's Top 10 Best Value Law School.

In-state tuition to UM’s School of Law is about $11,000 a year, Freeman said. Out-of-state students pay about $27,000.

“Even our out-of-state tuition is a good deal compared to many school’s in-state tuition,” Freeman said. “Tuition overall is a good deal.”

Andrew Vigeland, a fourth-year communications major applying to the school of law, said during his undergraduate studies at UM, the most interesting discussions of ethics, policy and society were connected to the law.

“The recruitment rates for the top third of the graduating class are still high,” Vigeland said about the UM law program. “The law school can give me the knowledge and credentials to change society.”