- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana law schools are taking steps to bring in new students and adjust their educational approach as enrollment continues to wane.

The number of first-year students at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law has fallen 10 percent this year after a 25 percent decline from 2010 to 2013. Enrollment is also down at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IUPUI and at Valparaiso University Law School, and a new school in Fort Wayne has enrolled only a third of the students it expected, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1zST1L1 ).

Nationally, first-year enrollments are at their lowest level since 1973, according to the American Bar Association.

Experts say concerns about student debt and lower hiring rates are contributing to the decline.

Law school debt can run about $100,000. But starting salaries for graduates with full-time law jobs averaged about $78,000 in 2013, according to the National Association for Law Placement.

The group also says nearly a fourth of 2013 law school graduates had not landed a job within nine months of graduation.

Many companies have moved toward fee-based contracts instead of paying for billable hours. And fast-growing companies are using computer algorithms or lawyers in India to conduct electronic discovery and due diligence, the kinds of work recent graduates were often assigned, according to IU Maurer professor Bill Henderson.

“The demand for our core product - traditionally trained law school graduates - is collapsing,” Henderson wrote in a 2013 article for the Pepperdine Law Review.

The drop-off in demand for lawyers has sparked concerns that some smaller law schools might close.

IU McKinney Dean Andy Klein said his school is focused on containing costs as enrollment settles at about 15 percent below the previous decade’s norm.

The school isn’t replacing all staff and faculty when they leave and is having professors teach courses outside the law school.

Both IU law schools are also trying to boost enrollment by partnering with liberal arts colleges that give scholarships to top graduates if they attend one of the schools for a law degree. They also are looking to increase programs that award degrees other than the juris doctorate.

Austen Parrish, who leads IU Maurer, is keeping a close eye on the numbers. Maurer’s juris doctor applications have fallen 47 percent in the last four years and are running about 10 percent lower for the next school year.

“That’s pretty stark,” Parrish said. “If the numbers keep going down, we might have to reduce the size of our program.”

IU McKinney graduate Brandon Carothers, 28, is still looking for a law job nine months after graduating. He’s working in marketing now, but $130,000 in law school debt looms, along with questions about whether law school was worth it.

“I really liked my time in law school, and I like what I do,” he said. “But if it’s another year from now and I still don’t have a job as a prosecutor, then no, absolutely not.”

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Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, https://www.ibj.com


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