ABA report: Law school enrollment spikes in 2021

After only modest growth during the past five years, enrollment in law school increased rapidly in 2021.

The latest annual report for American Bar Association-approved law schools, reflecting data collected through December 15, shows a sharp increase in first-year law students for the fall 2021 class, harking back to levels last seen nearly two decades ago. Across the 196 ABA-accredited law schools, 1L enrollment grew by 11.8% in fall 2021 over the year earlier, one of the largest single-year increases since the 2008 recession.

The 1L increase of 4,516 students in fall 2021 follows a total increase of about 1,800 new admittees over the previous five-year period, according to statistics in the ABA Profile of the Legal Profession. Overall, for the current term 117,501 students (1Ls through 3Ls) were enrolled, an increase of 2,981 students or 2.6% from 2020. This still is about 30,000 students less than in 2010, when total J.D. enrollment peaked at 147,525 before a 29% decline during the next five years, reflecting the drop in the job market for lawyers.

“I think that the first-year enrollment increase was actually expected based upon the application data we had this year,” said Bill Adams, managing director for ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, pointing to Law School Admission Council data that the number of people applying to law school for the fall 2021 semester was up 13%.

The new report showed an additional 21,044 students were enrolled in other legal programs, such as the LL.M., masters and certificate programs that are not accredited by the ABA. This represents a decrease of 248 students, or 1.2%, from 2020. Counting the non-J.D. enrollment, the total number of students at ABA-approved law schools for fall 2021 totaled 138,545, or an increase of 2%.

The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar  collects and reports data from approved law schools in several categories.