The University of Wisconsin Law School is looking to make changes to its curriculum after seeing a sharp decline in law school applicants over the past few years.
This past year, applicants have been down 31 percent throughout the nation and UW’s numbers have been pretty consistent with that, Rebecca Scheller, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at UW Law School, said.
The general consensus about the decreased applications is that people are concerned about the cost and effort of going to law school, Michael Keller, assistant dean for career and professional development at the UW Law School, said.
Law students put time and money into earning their degrees, and — with the job market not being the way it always was — the incentive to attend law school continues to decrease, Keller said.
Keller said ever since the 2008 Great Recession hit, many things with the legal industry changed. Law firms began to lay off employees, which had a ripple effect, and those changes are still affecting the industry today, he said.
“People five, six years ago would have gotten multiple offers, if they were in the top of their class, but law firms are now requiring so much more,” Keller said.
After the economy tanked, fewer people could afford attorneys and basic legal advice could be accessed online, according to reporting from Madison’s NBC 15. Employment rates for recent law school graduates have dropped 7 percent, reporting from NBC 15 said.
Some firms are not even looking to hire students right after graduation, Keller said. Many law firms are now looking for applicants with two to seven years of experience, he said. Because of the recession, law firms do not want to spend the time and money to train students immediately after graduation, he said.
“Firms are asking for more and paying for less,” Keller said.
Previously larger law firms had a tendency to use grades as a strong indicator of whether or not to take on graduates, Keller said. However, the system has become stricter over the last few years, and firms are not only looking for grades but emotional intelligence and strong interview skills, he said.
Because law firms are looking for graduates that are more “practice ready,” UW Law School has made its legal research and writing component credits available both in the fall and spring to better prepare students for the experience employers are looking for, Scheller said.
“Students used to be able to graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and be able to go to a great law firm after graduation,” Scheller said, adding that employers are now looking for career and professional development or ultimately, “the whole package.”
Scheller said UW law students will benefit from long-standing commitment to clinical programs as well as getting to talk to clients and interact with them. This will hopefully better prepare them for their experiences after graduation, she said.
Scheller and Keller said changes are not just being made at UW, but across the country. The industry is getting more creative and more competitive, and this is something all law programs will have to adjust to, they said.