COLUMBIA, Mo. The days of top law school graduates having their pick of six-figure jobs at boutique firms - or at least being assured of putting their degrees to use - are over.
Postgraduate employment rates are at their lowest levels in 15 years. The typical student leaves school nearly $100,000 in debt. And after several years of recession-driven enrollment gains, applications to law schools nationwide are down nearly 10 percent this year.
The sobering statistics have prompted plenty of soul-searching in the legal academy, with calls for schools to provide more accurate job-placement data as well as efforts by some law schools to admit fewer students to avoid dumping a glut of newly minted J.D.s onto an unforgiving job market.
The sense that one can go to law school and get rich quick, that it is the lottery ticket - those days are well past, said law dean Larry Dessem at the University of Missouri, where first-year fall enrollment is down 11 percent and applications declined nearly 17 percent.
The lessening interest in law school can be seen at flagship public universities and elite private schools.
Washington University in St. Louis, which reports a 12 percent enrollment decline. New student enrollment at the University of California, Los Angeles is down 16 percent, while the University of Michigan reports a 14 percent decrease in applicants. All three are top-25 schools in the influential U.S. News & World Report rankings.