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Applications to School of Law Buck National Trend, Up 29 Percent This Year

A weak economy generally leads to an increase in law school applications as college graduates try to ride out the stingy job market. But the economic downturn is also affecting the legal market, especially big law firms in urban centers, and concerns over this instability may be holding applications down nationally.

Washington and Lee School of Law is a notable exception, with applications up 29% over last year, far outpacing the national average of 4%. Earlier reports from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the National Law Journal had applications running flat compared to last year. But a March 19 report from the Wall Street Journal shows that tension has eased, with several schools reporting above average increases, though still running far less than W&L.

Sidney Evans, associate dean for student services at the School of Law, thinks long-term fear over the economy and concerns about the job market may explain the national trend in applications falling short of expectations. She also notes that because of its size, W&L tends to experience trends at the extremes.

“Our statistics are almost always more volatile than the national number, although usually not to this extent,” says Evans, who oversees admissions and career planning.

Law Dean Rodney A. Smolla sees the increase as a vote of confidence in the School of Law’s new third- year curriculum.

“Particularly in these challenging economic times, I believe applicants want a legal education that integrates theory and practice, and positions them to enter the marketplace with a solid grounding in professionalism and the actual application of legal knowledge to solve problems for clients,” says Smolla.

Announced in March of last year, the Law School’s new third-year curriculum marks a dramatic departure from traditional legal education by engaging all third-year law students in a broad array of real-world and simulated applications of legal knowledge in order to provide a bridge from the study of legal theory to the actual practice of law.