Following a decadelong economic downturn, which saw the unemployment rate peak at 10 percent, U.S. law schools are seeing more interest from applicants now than at any point since 2008. Fordham Law is at the forefront of this heartening trend, recording an almost 17-percent increase in day applications and a 14-percent increase in overall applications from 2017—numbers that outpace the 8-percent national increase over that span.
Increased applications reflect a dual understanding—political and economic—of the current times. Prospective students apprehend the urgent role that lawyers play in a democracy, and they see that job prospects for law school graduates are on the rise, as private firms increase staff sizes cut in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The 417 Fordham Law students in this fall’s incoming J.D. class share a zeal for the law that surpasses mere public/private sector distinctions, and yearn to use their education to better the world.
“The lawyer’s role has been rediscovered,” says Stephen Brown, assistant dean of enrollment, explaining the surge in applications, both at Fordham and nationally. “Lawyers are in the news every day, constantly, and they are heroes. They are the ones people are turning to to resolve disputes and reach agreements.”
Likewise, Big Law opportunities, scarce in the years after the 2008 recession, have returned, and Fordham Law offers its students both the legal training and built-in Network Effect to compete for lucrative jobs after graduation. Fordham ranks 20th in terms of the percentage of the J.D. Class of 2017 hired by the largest 100 law firms. and 10th in the number of alumni promoted to partner, according to the National Law Journal. Fordham Law graduates also score big in state and federal government positions as well as in public interest organizations and nonprofits.
“Students understand that a Fordham Law degree opens a lot of doors,” says Kathryn Espiritu, director of admissions. “They walk away from their visit understanding that this is going to provide them a strong return on their investment.”
The Law School is also busy investing in its new students. Fundraising efforts have significantly raised financial aid awards over the past half dozen years, easing tuition burdens and, in the process, allowing Fordham Law to better compete with other top schools. Fordham is also a rarity among its peers with its offering of need-based aid for students and families who are unable to afford tuition. “We’re a gateway school, and we take that seriously,” Brown says.
This fall, the average incoming Fordham Law student is around 25 years old and possesses between three to four years of work experience. They come from approximately 35 states, including Florida, California, and Louisiana. Brown and Espiritu focus intently on molding a class that will strengthen the Law School community. Still, current students are the best salespeople for the Law School, Brown says, notably in their ability to convey the common ethos and mutual respect that exists at Fordham.
“When the students see the atmosphere, it’s different than other competitive, highly ranked law schools,” Brown continues. “Part of it is that we look for applicants who want to be team players, and who want to be part of something bigger than they are.”
And, of course, there’s always New York—America’s financial and cultural capital—as a selling point.
“Students realize how important it is to have practical experiences while in law school,” Espiritu says. “They come to New York understanding how much access and opportunity this affords them.”
Incoming 1L Samuel Ellis Black arrived at Fordham Law after spending the past year and a half as a forensic interviewer with the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center. Fordham impressed the Tulane University graduate with its Family Advocacy Clinic, its Dispute Resolution Society, and its location in New York City—a place the Alabama native dreamed of calling home since early childhood.
“Everyone I spoke with at Fordham was extremely welcoming,” Black says. “I knew the main focus was to provide a tight-knit community, and I can’t think of a better place to study the law and experience New York City than at Fordham.”
For Katie Sylvan, a National Football League labor operations manager whose work deals with the salary cap, player contracts, and collective bargaining, a J.D. degree will help propel her career advancement. Fordham granted her the best opportunity to maintain her work schedule and obtain a quality legal education.
“Fordham’s part-time evening program will help me receive a high-caliber Juris Doctor while continuing to grow and develop in my career,” Sylvan says of the program, ranked No. 3 by the U.S. News & World Report.