KU law school bucks national trend, posts increase in applications

While the number of people applying to law schools continued to fall nationwide, the Kansas University School of Law rebounded with a 19 percent increase in applications for 2012, the school announced Monday.

The school received 973 applications from prospective students in 2012, compared with 819 applications in 2011. The uptick brought the school about halfway back to the numbers it saw in 2010, when 1,120 people applied.

Across the country, the number of people applying for law school admission in 2012 fell by 13.7 percent, according to a spokeswoman for the Law School Admission Council.

It was the second straight year the number of applicants tumbled nationally, said KU Law Dean Stephen Mazza. But as prospective students weigh a tough legal job market and the potential cost of law school, Mazza said, more may be sticking with well-regarded public universities.

“I think they’re starting to make the realization that it just makes more sense to go to a high-quality public school as opposed to paying twice as much to go to a private school, or sometimes three times as much,” Mazza said.

KU reported that it was among only 11 of the 198 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association to see an increase in applications of more than 10 percent, according to materials it received from the LSAC. The LSAC spokeswoman said the group, which administers the Law School Admission Test, could not confirm that figure or release school-by-school application numbers.

Mazza said the school drew about the same number of applications as last year from Kansas residents even though the number of people taking the LSAT test suggested that about 20 percent fewer Kansans applied to law school in 2012. Applications from out-of-state residents rose substantially, he said.

The school put more resources into recruitment for 2012, Mazza said, including the addition of an open house specifically for potential out-of-state students.

“Knowing that law school applications were likely to decline nationally, we sort of anticipated this,” Mazza said.

Steven Freedman, who became the KU law school’s assistant dean for admissions about a year ago, said the school also instituted an easier, paperless application process and increased outreach across Kansas. But he said he suspected national trends favoring well-known state schools in the Midwest had more to do with the increase in applications.

“I think people in difficult times want to go to a safe harbor, a place that they know is respected and well-known,” Freedman said.

Mazza said he was not sure what effect the law school’s national ranking had on its ability to attract applicants, or how the increase might affect its ranking in future years. The school fell a combined 22 spots in the U.S. News and World Report rankings in 2011 and 2012.

As it faces the possibility that national interest in law school may continue to decline, the school also will launch a new campaign designed to get more college students thinking about going to law school, Mazza said.

One aspect of the campaign, called “Change the Conversation,” will involve teaching potential students that a law degree does not have to lead to a traditional career such as an attorney for a law firm, as students can find careers in government or with corporations or nonprofit groups.

“We need to counter some of the national press about law school,” Mazza said.