Across the United States, law schools are in the throes of a crisis: the pool of law-school applicants has plummeted to a 15-year low, forcing many schools to slash their class sizes.
In Ontario, there is nothing close to such a disaster, but something similar is happening. In 2010, in the thick of the economic downturn, the number of applicants to law schools in the province soared. But over the past two years, that number has fallen sharply from 5,127 to 4,369, according to the latest public figures. That’s a 15-percent dip at an odd moment: a mere three years ago, a new law school opened at Lakehead University. During a time when there were more law-school spots than ever, the public should have felt hungriest for legal education — instead, it lost its appetite.
“This is an entirely rational response to disturbing market realities,” says Ryan Robski, a third-year law student at Osgoode Hall and president of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario. To explain the drop, he points in part to the high cost of tuition and the depressed legal job market. Indeed, the largest firms on Bay Street have cut 45 articling jobs in the past six years. “All this may have potential applicants questioning the value of a law degree.”
So have law schools taken notice? “Of course,” says Alissa Cooper, the manager of admissions and student financial services at Osgoode Hall, which saw a 20-percent drop in the number of applicants from 2013 to 2015. “We’re not too worried, since we’ve never had a hard time filling our class with excellent students. But we are concerned from an accessibility perspective. If the high cost of tuition, coupled with the perception you might not land a job after graduating, is deterring capable applicants from applying, that’s not a good thing.”
The class ceiling
A 10-year look at the total number of applicants to Ontario law schools:
This story is from our Summer 2016 issue.