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Applications Hit Record Highs for U.S. Law Schools : Increase Attributed to Impact of Television Hit 'L.A. Law'

August 20, 1989|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | Times Staff Writer

For the first time in more than 15 years, law school applications in the United States are breaking records.

At the California Western School of Law in San Diego the expectation of a record number of first-year students has led Dean Michael H. Dessent to take the unusual step of assigning himself to teach a class.

"The dean's going to have to put on the raincoat and boots, watch out for the tomatoes and get back in there," Dessent said.

The unprecedented interest in law school--reflected in record applications at the University of San Diego, UCLA, USC and elsewhere--is attributable in large part to a single law firm, admissions officials believe.

That would be the firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak. They practice on the weekly television series, "L.A. Law."

"Everybody wants to say (the increase is due to) 'L.A. Law'," said Nancy C. Ramsayer, director of admissions at Cal Western. "I keep wanting to discount that, saying it may have just something to do with it.

'Oh My God, Maybe It Is That'

" . . . However, the other day I had someone telling me they were doing a research project, and they had to do so much research, and it wasn't like 'L.A. Law' at all. And I thought, oh my God, maybe it is that."

In line last week at the financial aid office at Cal Western, incoming student David Guglielmi, 22, of Washington, D.C., said that indeed "L.A. Law" did play a part in his decision to apply to law school.

The show portrays "younger people having a good time, making a lot of money, the fine clothes," he said. That image is what "people are buying into. That's what I bought into."

Jeanne Taber, 23, of Eugene, Ore., another incoming student, said that she has never watched the show, but she's convinced it still affected her application.

"I decided to go to law school before the show but the competition was a lot tougher because of the show," she said. "I think it's directly related to the TV show, the glamour on TV."

While Cal Western, an independent law school accredited by the American Bar Assn., has been able to expand its class size from 240 to about 300 to accommodate increases in applications, most top schools don't have that luxury.

6,533 Applied for 320 Spaces

UCLA received 6,533 applicants--"clearly a record"--for the 320 spaces in this fall's class, Michael Rappaport, dean of admissions at UCLA, said. That was a 16.5% increase over the 5,607 applicants for the 1988-89 entering class, he said.

"The thing that's interesting about the statistics is not only is the number of applicants way up but the quality of applicants also is up," Rappaport said. "What we find is that we are turning down people who would have been admitted several years ago, even last year."

Tuition at UCLA is $832.25 per semester, Rappaport said. But even a tuition of $15,316, which is what the coming year will cost at USC, did not deter applicants. USC received a record 3,450 applicants for this year's class of about 190, said Robert M. Saltzman, dean of students.

At USD, officials received a record 3,570 applications for 320 spaces, said Young, the assistant dean. Just two years ago, the school received 2,450. That's a 46% increase.

Young ordered 40,000 brochures last fall, figuring they would last two years. Instead, the school sent out 28,000 last year alone and needs to reorder, she said.

Stanford received a record 5,255 applicants for a class of 170, or 31 applications for each opening, said Dora Hjertberg, director of admissions. In San Francisco, the University of California's Hastings College of the Law got 5,126 applications, a new high, up 18% from 4,330 the year before, said Thomas Wadlington, admissions director.

Harvard got about 7,800 applications for 540 spots, said Joyce Curll, assistant dean for admissions. Yale got 4,682 for 175, said Loretta Tremblay, assistant director of admissions. Both figures were records.

This year's cascade of applications is particularly intriguing, UCLA's Rappaport said, because it came "in the face of predictions three or four years ago, when law school applications were down, that law school applications would level off or maybe just keep going down."

Bottomed in 1985-86

Interest in law school, which had reached a previous peak in 1973-74, bottomed out in 1985-86, said William J. Kennish, vice president of operations for Law School Admission Services in Newtown, Pa.

LSAS runs the Law School Admission Test, which along with an applicant's college grade point average is used by most schools to rank candidates. In 1973-74, LSAS administered about 135,400 tests, Kennish said. In 1985-86, the end of 12 years of decline, the number administered was down to about 91,400, Kennish said.

In the 1988-89 testing year, the one during which most people who applied for this fall's entering class took the exam, LSAS administered 136,367 tests, Kennish said. "So we have in fact made up more than 12 years of decline in three years of increases," he said.

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