A steep decline in applications has the University of New Mexico’s School of Law re-evaluating its future while putting faculty expansion on hold, administrators say.
The school, under the direction of new dean David Herring, is conducting a strategic planning process in response to what has been widely reported as a declining value of a law degree, and a resulting decline in admissions applications.
The UNM law school has had a drop in applications from 1,200 in 2007 to about 650 this year, according to figures provided to the Journal. The school admits 115 to 120 students a year, most of whom are New Mexicans.
It is ranked No. 64 on a list of best law schools by U.S. World & News Report, and its clinical program is considered one of the best in the country.
The decline in enrollment, along with a shrinking law workforce, has administrators looking at different ways the law school should proceed, UNM provost Chaouki Abdallah said.
“We’re monitoring this very carefully. Our law school is very different from most law schools. … We didn’t grow as much as others,” Abdallah said.
Abdallah said the school’s limited growth has helped it do well in a time when other law schools have had to shrink faculty size due to declining enrollments.
UNM has not had to resort to that but is being cautious this year about hiring faculty, Herring said.
Herring, who began his tenure as dean this month , said the school will fill two vacant positions with visiting professors instead of permanent faculty. It also does not plan on hiring additional faculty.
The school has about 30 tenure and tenure-track faculty members and about 20 other professors and instructors.
“In terms of the market for lawyers, it’s starting to come back a little bit slowly, so that’s a good thing in terms of our applicants finding employment. But the application pool is decreasing, so that’s putting a lot of pressure,” Herring said.
In general, UNM law grads have had less trouble finding work than students from other schools. For example, 70 percent of the 103 UNM law school graduates in 2011 had jobs that required a law degree upon graduation.
That’s in large part because of the school’s focus on New Mexico issues, Abdallah said. Many of the school’s graduates stay in New Mexico and work in the public sector, he said.
Instead of investing in more faculty, the law school will design a five-year plan and determine whether to stay at its current size or change. In the meantime, it will allocate more of its funding for financial aid “because that’s really where we’re hurting,” Abdallah said.