Law schools chase students on the Web Look me over: Faced with sagging enrollment, law schools are using cyberspace, videotapes and slick magazines to fill classrooms.

April 26, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

When aspiring law students seek enrollment information from Loyola Marymount Law School in Los Angeles, they're blanketed with an array of papers -- application, handouts and a 34-page law school catalog.

Unless they own home PCs.

Then the information can come in a different form: computer disks.

Loyola is one of a few law schools in the country to offer a totally computerized admissions process, from information on faculty to a sales pitch about career placement. (There's even an option to fill out the school's application while sitting at a home computer.)

Loyola isn't alone. Across the country, law schools are turning to computer technology, glossy brochures, even videos, to lure the best students.

Their marketing efforts come at a critical time. Jobs for new lawyers are scarce. Public attitudes about the legal profession are, at best, indifferent. In that climate, it's no surprise that applications to law schools have taken a nose dive, declining each year for the last four.

Few schools have escaped the application spiral. Those that have fared best cite, in part, more innovative recruiting.

That trend has reached the University of Baltimore, which operates a "home page" on the World Wide Web.

The page, which debuted last summer, reprints all information from the UB law school's catalog, including an application blank. Students simply fill it out, download to a printer and drop it in the mail.

Beverly C. Falcon, UB law school's associate director of admissions, said the computer system works well with students in a hurry.

"The home page is for the person who wants the information now, not in a week to 10 days," Ms. Falcon said. "He or she doesn't want to wait until the admission office opens the next morning."

At the University of Maryland, officials are sticking to traditional methods, like going to college campuses to meet with students.

"Every law school wants the strongest students it can recruit," said James F. Forsyth, UM Law's assistant dean for student admissions. "We can work harder to tell people why we believe we're better "

Elsewhere, efforts can be more elaborate -- and expensive.

Take the University of Richmond Law School. This year, the law school will send out Hollywood-quality videos to roughly 5,000 students. The 8-minute tapes take students on a campus tour, escorting them to the library and peeking with them into classrooms.

Producing and mailing the tapes is "a major investment," said Michelle Rahman, the law school's director of admissions. But officials there are confident they are getting their money's worth, Ms. Rahman said.

"It's helpful because students don't have to come to campus to get a good picture," she said. "We can sell our physical plant, which is quite beautiful. And we can tell students what it's like to go to the law school, how it feels, what we're looking for."

It's difficult to gauge whether the video influences applicants' thinking about the law school, Ms. Rahman said. But indications are that it probably does.

Last year, about 60 percent of students applying to the law school requested the videos. And of students who got the tape, 40 percent decided to enroll, she said.

"We think that's a pretty high percentage," Ms. Rahman said.

Some law schools are sinking their money into color magazines. One is a little-known school in Birmingham, Ala., Cumberland School of Law, which admissions officials around the country repeatedly singled out for its latest publication, "The Making of a Lawyer."

Several said the 30-page, glossy magazine, designed by a public-relations firm, was the most impressive they'd seen, even from legal education powerhouses such as Harvard and Yale. That surprised them, as did the fact that the school apparently sent the magazine not only to students, but hundreds of legal educators across the country.

Mitzi Davis, Cumberland's assistant dean of admissions, said the book went to "every dean of every ABA law school so they know about our school."

Currying favor with law faculty and deans is important for law schools, maybe more so than reaching students, thanks to U.S. News and World Report.

Six years ago, U.S. News launched an annual ranking of the law schools, using as one measure how the schools rated with professors around the country. Quickly, the survey gained readers and credibility. Students and administrators read it, and apparently, make decisions based on the results.

Schools that routinely finish at the bottom of the list are touchy about it. Many furiously lobby law faculty trying to improve their image, and position in the next survey.

One school writes to law professors, inviting them to campus and offering telephones and other office services.

"U.S. News is the most prominent publication giving a ranking. Applicants are looking for that type of thing," said Mr. Forsyth, the UM admissions official.

Ms. Davis of the Cumberland law school acknowledged that the poor reviews in U.S. News -- her school again ranked among the worst schools this year -- can shake the law school's confidence in itself.

"We think we have a reputation to overcome, one that we've got to be uneducated because our school is in Alabama," Ms. Davis said.

"There's a national bias against us. We're just trying to put our best foot forward."

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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