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Northwestern Law Responds to Shifting Legal Market

School announces smaller class size, moderate tuition increase and more financial aid

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March 11, 2013 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Daniel Rodriguez
Dean Daniel Rodriguez

CHICAGO --- Northwestern University School of Law today announced three “first steps” to respond to the shifting legal economy.

Class size will be reduced by approximately 10 percent – with 20 to 25 fewer students admitted for the fall 2013 entering class.

Tuition will be raised by only 3 percent for the 2013-14 school year, matching last year’s moderate increase, then the law school’s smallest in more than 40 years and a rate that coincides with historical measures of inflation.

Northwestern Law also will increase total investment in need- and merit-based financial aid for entering students and in its Loan Repayment Assistance Progam (LRAP) for graduating students by at least 25 percent during the next two years. 

“We can’t ignore the destabilizing forces that the legal industry is facing today,” said Daniel Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern University School of Law. “Through our strategic process, currently actively under way, we are making every effort to be compassionate and smart during these challenging economic times.

“That means continuing to support everything that sets our great law school apart, while exploring ways to exploit the innovation that Northwestern Law is known for even further,” he said.

Underlying the decision to reduce the class size is the mismatch between the number of J.D.s who graduate each year and the demand the legal economy is creating and can sustain, he said.

“The modification of the class size also will further enrich the strong and close-knit sense of community and camaraderie for which the school of law is known,” he said.

The law school’s modest increase of tuition last year was at the very low end of the spectrum for top law schools, and Rodriguez expects that that will be the case this year.

The increase in investment in need- and merit-based financial aid for entering students and in the LRAP program for graduating student reflects the school’s commitment to limit the rising cost of a Northwestern legal education and corresponding burdens of student indebtedness.

The decline in law school applications and legal positions and the financial burdens of law graduates in debt have dominated headlines in recent years.

“Northwestern has not faced the same level of decline as other schools, nor have we suffered as greatly from the decline in legal positions as most other law schools," Rodriguez said. "The reduction in the entering class size is not something we had to do, but it is the prudent and right thing to do in the midst of the changes that are taking place nationally.”

An outspoken leader on the need for reform in the legal academy, Rodriguez recently co-authored an op-ed on the subject that ran in The New York Times. Arguing that law students in New York should have the option to take the bar exam after two, rather than three, years of law school, before graduation, the op-ed also addressed other options for reforming legal education to adjust to the times.

Responding efficiently to the realities of the market without sacrificing quality of the academic program is the guiding principle of the law school’s strategic process. Northwestern Law continues to lead in the new legal economy and to be a great investment, Rodriguez stressed.

The changes also present real opportunities, he said. “Informed by our culture of innovation and with the creative work of our faculty, students, and staff, we will craft strategies, big and small, to meet the challenges facing legal education so that we will continue to thrive in the years to come,” he said.

Taking students’ economic circumstances into account is central to the strategies.

“We know that a first-class, innovative legal education need not be provided with insufficient regard to students’ economic circumstances,” Rodriguez said. “We can be great and efficient, elite and compassionate.”

The Princeton Review listed Northwestern University School of Law as one of the top five (No. 4) law schools in the country for career prospects in its 2013 rankings (released in fall 2012) and in six of the last eight years. Last month, the National Law Journal also recognized Northwestern as the nation’s number five “go-to law school” for placing the fifth-highest number of 2012 graduates in the NLJ 250 -- the magazine’s listing of the nation’s largest law firms. The National Law Journal has ranked Northwestern in the top five on this measure for six of the last seven years.