Do law students outnumber lawyers?

“I was under the impression that there were as many people in law schools as there are lawyers.”

commenter Conrad, 14 August 2008.

This factoid has been around for a long time. As long ago as 1996 an article (pdf) could open by saying that

we are often reminded of the startling fact that there are more students currently studying to be lawyers than there are lawyers practising law,

though it did not actually examine whether that assumption was true.

Working out how many law students we have is not straightforward. The published student statistics report for law only in ‘load’, which means units of study coded as law. People who are not enrolled in law degrees do law subjects, eg commerce students take business law units. But with this caveat, in 2007 law units were equivalent to 24,979 full-time undergraduate students. Another way of estimating numbers is through the offers and acceptance data. In 2008, 5,672 persons accepted a place in a law course. But none of these numbers can account for JD programs, which are professional entry qualifications taught as postgraduate degrees (for which universities can charge full fees – expect to see these expand as the government’s ban on undergraduate full-fee places starts to bite).
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