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Law school enrollment is up, and that’s a good thing

For the first time in nearly a decade, more people are showing interest in enrolling in law school and pursuing careers in the legal world or fields in which a fundamental understanding of the law is beneficial.

No, this is not a setup for a joke poking fun at lawyers (though I wouldn’t hold it against any reader anticipating a real zinger of a punch line here).

Instead, I’m hopeful that a renewed interest in studying and practicing the law is a positive for our community, our state and our nation.

According to numerous surveys of students considering law school, the number one reason for pursuing a law degree is the pathway it provides to a career in government or public service. Next on this list of priorities is a passion for the type of work attorneys perform, followed by the opportunity a legal career provides for helping others, giving back to society, or advocating for social change.

“This means that three of the four top reasons for undergraduates to consider law school show they see law as a way to contribute to the public good rather than private benefit,” wrote the authors of a 2017 study/survey by The Association of American Law Schools and Gallup Inc.

This is music to our ears at Concordia University School of Law, where we are committed to instilling values like servant leadership, helping those less fortunate, and building stronger communities.

This year, the number of people applying for law school shot up by 8 percent nationally, the most significant increase since before the Great Recession in 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council.

Here in Boise, we admitted 60 students in August as part of our 2018 Class, our second biggest on record. Recent American Bar Association figures show a 1.3 percent increase this fall in law school enrollment compared to 2017. Early interest in the Law School Admission Test signal another enrollment boost for 2019.

Based on our data, we know many of our graduates will stay and work here in the Treasure Valley or other communities in Idaho. We know some will go on to accept jobs in local and state government. Many will join a local firm or start their own practice. We know many will remain committed to pro bono and low bono legal assistance and helping underserved populations.

At the same time, media reports and conversations with local leaders confirm there is a need and demand for services here in Idaho that focus on migrant populations, veterans working to overcome homelessness, or parents and families simply unable to pay for legal expertise to help navigate custody cases, landlord disputes, or protection orders.

Our students must perform at least 50 hours of law-related public service before graduation. Much of this work is done at our in-house clinic, part of our experiential learning program called 5th and Front, where students interact directly with Idahoans who need legal advice but cannot afford to hire an attorney or qualify for free legal aid.

Other law schools are also recognizing this shift. Recently, New York-based Columbia Law School, one of the top law schools in the country, announced it will invest $4.5 million in the next three years to attracting and educating students pursuing public interest and government careers.

We should all celebrate the resurgent interest in pursuing a law degree, and particularly the factors driving this trend, as it means more people applying the knowledge and habits of mind acquired in law school to the important work of bettering our communities, expanding social justice, and advocating for those who may perceive themselves as powerless.

Elena Langan has served as Dean of the Concordia University School of Law in Boise since 2016. Before coming to Idaho, Langan was associate dean for academic affairs at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law in Florida. She practiced law in Maryland and Florida for 25 years before joining the faculty at NSU.

About Elena Langan