Will Law Schools' Scramble for Applicants / Rankings Turn Even Uglier?


LSAT Blog Law Schools Applicants Rankings Scramble

For updates, see my series of posts on recent trends in law school admissions.


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To what new lows will law schools have to sink in order to attract top-scoring applicants?

While the Law School Admission Council's newest numbers indicate that law school applicant numbers are in steep decline, they also indicate that the declines are not equal across the board.

In particular, we're seeing a huge drop-off in top LSAT scorers applying this cycle. The decline in the number of law school applicants has come disproportionately from the top end of the spectrum.

The number of applicants whose highest LSAT scores were 170-174 (97th-99th percentiles) declined by 20.7%, while the number of applicants whose highest scores were 140-144 (13th-23rd percentiles) and below 140 dropped by only 6.2% and 4.3%, respectively. The number of applicants with other LSAT scores generally decreased anywhere from approximately 14%-19%.

(These figures are based on data submitted through 3/30/12. LSAC states, "Last year at this time, we had 91% of the preliminary final applicant count.")

Here's the full set of LSAT numbers from LSAC:

LSAT Blog Law Schools Applicants Rankings Scramble


In other words, a bunch of top LSAT scorers decided not to even bother applying, while all but a tiny fraction of those with the lowest LSAT scores are still applying. (See The Atlantic's take on this.)

(Pardon my tone, low-scoring applicants, but what the hell are you people doing? If your highest LSAT score on an official test administration is 144, or less, you need to seriously rethink your LSAT study habits or consider another profession. I don't care if your GPA's a 4.3 from Grade Inflation University, but you're not getting into any law school worth considering with that LSAT score.)


Here's a chart with the number of law school applicants over past 10 years:

LSAT Blog Law Schools Applicants Rankings Scramble



Law schools, I hope you took notes at The Hunger Games because things are about to get real ugly. You'll have to scramble to acquire top scorers or risk dying a slow death in the U.S. News rankings. (Or, even worse, lose tuition dollars and make cutbacks. A far cry from the expansions of only a few years ago.)  No more email screw-ups a la Baylor Law. No more fudging your employment numbers. It doesn't matter whether you win the resulting lawsuits or not - the publicity surrounding the lawsuits isn't doing you any good when it comes to attracting applicants.

I'll be impressed if you manage to keep your LSAT medians stable, given the rapidly shrinking pool of top-scoring applicants. You've got a major catch-22 on your hands. You can either:

1. Accept the same number of applicants as last year in order to get the tuition dollars necessary to keep operations running smoothly, and lower LSAT medians (risking a drop in the U.S. News rankings), or

2. Accept fewer applicants to minimize the effect on LSAT medians and U.S. News rankings, but lose tuition dollars and make cutbacks.

There are no easy answers here, but at least you'll be in good company - with the exception of the top 14,  pretty much every law school's in the same boat.


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For further reading, see my series of posts on recent trends in law school admissions.




26 comments:

  1. So, you are saying a score of 144 or below cannot succeed in law school? I believe this to be false. Many good and top scorers should not become attorneys in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's not what I said. Rather, I said scoring having 144 or below as one's highest score on an official LSAT administration would not be sufficient to gain admission to any law school worth attending.

      I didn't say anything about succeeding in law school or succeeding as an attorney.

      However, there is a decent correlation between one's LSAT score and 1L grades - LSAC says that one's LSAT score has a correlation of .35 with 1L grades, and that's an underestimation because some test-takers never make it to law school (see p16 of this PDF).

      http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/LSACREPORTfinal-12.pdf

      Delete
    2. Conclusion: "A score of 144 or below [can] succeed in law school."

      Evidence: "Many good and top scorers should not become attorneys in the first place."

      LOL, flaw.

      Delete
  2. All of these recent posts are so depressing; as a Canadian top scorer I wish this was the case, or at least that some Canadian schools ranking LSAT scores higher than GPA like many American schools. Unfortunately, unless you have a top GPA up here you're pretty much screwed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can always:

      1. Move to the U.S.

      2. Convince folks in Canada to open more law schools.

      3. Convince fellow Canadian applicants not to apply.

      Delete
    2. There are schools that rank LSAT scores higher than GPA in Canada..

      Delete
  3. I wonder why the drop off is at the top of the LSAT takers? It would seem the the people who scored lower would be more worried about the economy,loans etc The 175 people are still going to Yale and still gonna make a ton.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps some of the top LSAT scorers looked at the legal market, decided to pursue alternate careers, and had viable options for doing so.

      Delete
    2. Maybe they also decided to apply later since LSAT scores are good for 5 years. Or didn't have the financial stability to attend law school.

      Delete
  4. It could be the that people scoring in the highest range are also generally some of the smartest people around who have a good sense of what law school has to offer for them in the long run. They've done their research and see that maybe they can excel in other areas, they can take other grad school exams (gmat/gre/mcat), and not take a plunge into the t-14 waters where they're not exactly guaranteed a upper-middle class lifestyle anymore.

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  5. I am sorry Steve- I enjoy your blog greatly, but I find your opinions in this article unfounded and pretty ridiculous. I have to wonder if there are just less people scoring highly on the LSAT? Perhaps. This is not my biggest problem here though. The comment about not being able to get into any law school that is "worth going to" I take issue with. The end goal of law school applicants is usually to go to law school to become a successful attorney, not just to "go to law school". Life continues on after that. My point is that even schools viewed as "not worth going to" because of a low LSAT score pump out dynamic attorneys every year. If you don't believe me just Google the top paid lawyers in America and it will show you a list of twenty or so lawyers who have won monumental cases. You will then notice that over half of the attorneys went to podunk law schools no one has ever heard of, and they may have even *gasp* had low LSAT scores. Bottom line is LSAT score, and/or the law school you go to does not I repeat does not determine success in life. I have an uncle who is a millionaire many times over who has a high school education. I just refuse to buy into this lie that I have to go to a top ranked law school with my shiny 160s+ LSAT score in order to be successful or happy or have a great career. Top ten law schools and high LSAT scores DO NOT determine a person's success in law school or life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking to the careers of attorneys who went to law school 20+ years ago or your uncle who made millions with a high school diploma for a realistic model of how to navigate a successful career in this day and age is not a good idea. Our world suffers currently from a plague of over-credentialization. A high school diploma does not mean anything anymore, and a degree from a podunk law school doesn't mean as much as it used to. That doesn't mean you cannot be successful with either of those things, but it is much, much harder to do so nowadays. Besides, back in the 70s, Boult even only used to be $300 a semester. Today, if you go to a law school that no one has ever heard of, you might graduate with $200k in debt that you can't pay back because you can't get a job. We live in completely different times.

      Delete
    2. As the previous reply (9:12AM) noted, times are different now. There are far too many law schools now. Those who attended low-tier law school decades ago graduated into a market that wasn't nearly as saturated with attorneys as it is now.

      In the past few years, a degree from a 4th-tier law school has been a ticket to nowhere for many graduates (read the law school scam blogs for their stories).

      The law school you attend will have a significant impact on your future career prospects. It would be deceitful of me to imply otherwise. A law degree from a 4th-tier school is not worth the price tag and time investment for many prospective applicants.

      I didn't say that you have to attend a top 10 school in order to be happy, successful, etc.

      Rather, I suggested that scoring 144 or below was not sufficient to gain admission to a law school worth attending in these times. (A 151/152 puts one in the 50th percentile of test-takers.)

      I'm in agreement with the previous reply (9:12AM) to the 8:39AM commenter.

      Delete
  6. This makes me super happy. When I applied to law school the first time in 2009, the applicant pool was so tough. Now I can definitely go T14 (unless, of course, I do worse on the LSAT, which is not even a possibility. NOT EVEN.)

    ReplyDelete
  7. This article reads like something written by the ATL douches or a TLS "T14 or die" flame-far departure from the usually positive rhetoric geared towards future students. Given many factors, not everyone is afforded the opportunity to go to a top school nor really cares about working (and maybe burning out) in Biglaw. The majority here probably do not even truly know what Biglaw lawyers really do. Steve, stop the preaching, stop following the herd, and set yourself apart a bit as one of the few and useful law blogs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think the people at ATL are douches.

      Additionally, I don't think it fair to characterize my entire article based upon one parenthetical paragraph.

      I didn't say anything along the lines of "T14 or die."

      There's plenty of room between the schools to which one is limited with an LSAT score of 144 or less, and "top schools."

      An LSAT score of 145-160 could get one into plenty of schools that are neither T14 nor 4th-tier.

      I feel you've taken that one particular paragraph I wrote to be far more extreme than it actually is.

      Delete
  8. Ugh, I really want to be in the 175-180 range.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Steve,
    In case this was not already proposed, is there a chance that the creators of LSAT would purposefully make the next few test a little easier? In hopes that there would be more "top scorers" for the top schools to choose from. My first thought was "maybe this would allow less abled attorneys to enter the market", but really the schools curriculum combined with the Bar Exam should account for that. Just a thought. Your blog is a god-send by the way. Thank you for all your great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you're enjoying the blog!

      They will not make it easier to score well on future tests in order to create a greater number of high scorers - this would undermine the integrity of the exam. All tests must be equated so that scores on one exam are comparable to those on another exam.

      See: The LSAT Curve | Test-Equating at LSAC

      Delete
    2. It's more likely they just drop the standards of acceptance for law schools...

      Delete
  10. "this would undermine the integrity of the exam"

    Hmmm...let's see...integrity vs. more $ for the law school...

    Given the historical employment statistic distortions the law schools have energetically engaged in, in the recent past (like, say, yesterday)...

    ...you are betting on the *wrong* horse here.

    LSAT dilution will become the rule once the $ losses hit 10%+ and the least obvious way of *dumbing down* the LSAT can be determined.

    Remember, when you are dealing with law schools...you are dealing with scum.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Steve, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on admission prospects for a 168 this coming cycle...and the chances of getting into a school such as Georgetown with a 3.75 GPA? Will the decline in the 170-175 category make a 168 a score that is even more in play for a T14?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Steve:

    First of all, thank you for all your great posts. Can you please update the "full set of LSAT numbers" for 2013? I'd like to see how the number of applicants with 175-180 would have changed. It seems the access to the data need law school login to LSAC. Appreciate it!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Strangely enough, I just received my LSAT score and it was 144 (the exact "magic" number mentioned by Steve as the cut off between "good" and "bad"). However, I have an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, 2 MBAs, various other management certifications and over 20 years of experience in the IT industry. I got interested in law due to a family situation and have done pretty well being Pro Se both in Trial and Appeals court (including writing briefs for the Appeals Court) just by taking some paralegal courses as needed. Would all this background not count for more than just my LSAT score when it comes to being considered for law school admissions, Steve?

    ReplyDelete
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