Baltimore law deans defend their programs Legal jobs expected to grow, justifying steady enrollment

June 12, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

The late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger warned 20 years ago against a "society overrun by hordes of lawyers, hungry as locusts."

In Maryland, at least, we aren't there yet.

The number of Maryland jobs for lawyers is expected to grow by 29 percent over the next seven years, far faster than the expected employment increase in all other occupations, according to state labor market projections.

That's good news for Maryland's two law schools, both in Baltimore. They have been scrutinized lately by state officials worried about a possible glut of newly minted lawyers with fewer legal jobs available.

The law school deans of University of Maryland, Baltimore and University of Baltimore appeared before the Maryland Higher Education Commission yesterday to defend their institutions and profession.

"Lawyers are problem solvers, rather than problem creators," John A. Sebert, University of Baltimore's law dean, said, suggesting why lawyers would be in increasing demand.

Despite a 40 percent decline in applications since 1992, enrollments at the two law schools have remained relatively constant over the last decade.

Sebert told the commission, meeting at Towson University, that the drop in applications represents a return to levels typical in the mid-1980s.

Fueled by dreams of wealth and glamour -- reinforced by the hit television series "L.A. Law" -- students flooded law schools with applications in the late 1980s.

From a peak of 100,000 nationwide in 1991, applications have since declined, and many schools have reduced their entering classes to ensure their graduates can find jobs. Among the universities downsizing are Boston, Creighton and Rutgers.

Not so for Maryland's law schools. There were 1,882 students at the two professional institutions last year, an increase of 61 since 1989. Last year, 60 percent of those who applied to the University of Baltimore enrolled, while 36 percent enrolled at UMAB.

With applications decreasing but class size unchanged, the admission test scores of entering students have slipped slightly. The median LSAT at UMAB fell from 160 in 1992 to 156 last year, while at UB it dropped from 156 to 150 for daytime students.

Sebert and Donald Gifford, UMAB's law dean, said both schools remain highly selective and are producing competent lawyers. About 80 percent of the two schools' graduates have passed the state bar examination on their first try in the last five years, though there was a drop last year to 69 percent.

State and federal labor analysts say they expect a continued upswing in business activity to generate increased demand for lawyers. Much of the legal work is likely to be in specialized areas, such as intellectual property, health care, environment, technology and international trade.

The commission's staff, in a report reviewing the supply and demand for lawyers, questioned whether Maryland's law schools are doing enough to train students to meet those "niche" demands.

ZTC More than 80 percent of both schools' 1996 graduates earned full-time jobs, according to a study by the commission's staff. Less than two-thirds had full-time legal positions, but Sebert pointed out that law school graduates often get hired for their analytical skills, not their legal knowledge.

"Those in nonlegal professions aren't flipping burgers," Sebert said. "They're in major decision-making positions in business."

"Probably the greater part of society wishes more lawyers were flipping burgers," replied Edward O. Clark Jr., the commission's chairman who is also a lawyer.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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