No Letup in Small Law School Closures Post Financial Crisis

The announcement that John Marshall Law School’s Savannah campus would close is the latest illustration of how smaller, lower-ranked schools have struggled to stay open since the Great Recession accelerated the decline in demand for legal education.

“There doesn’t seem to be any indication that we’re at the end of this shakeout yet,” Paul F. Campos, a Colorado Law School professor who studies the economics of higher education, told Big Law Business.

“After a few more years, it’ll be clear to everyone that this is just the way it is going forward. And then it’s just a question of whether you’re willing to tolerate it or not,” he said.

Many of the lowest-ranked law schools in the United States have failed to recover from the post-financial crisis downturn in student applications. After reaching an all-time high of 147,525 in 2010, enrollment in American Bar Association-approved schools dropped 18.5 percent in just four years, the group said.

Savannah, which opened in 2012, cited “continue small student enrollment” as its primary reason for closing. It planned to enroll 95 students in its first class and to increase enrollment to 400 to 450 students, the ABA Journal reported at the time.

“They never got to that size, so it’s probably not surprising that they would not be able to manage,” said Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency (LST), a non-profit that tracks law school data.

The coastal Georgia campus recognized the woes facing law schools generally.

“There has been an unforeseen national decline in both opportunities for legal employment and a corresponding decline in the national law school applicant pool,” Savannah said in a statement announcing the closure last week.

The news comes less than a year after the closing of Whittier’s law school last spring and for-profit Charlotte Law School last summer. Two other schools, Valparaiso and Thomas Jefferson, have not closed but are at risk of doing so, according to Campos.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editor on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com.