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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Organ: The Declining Quantity and Quality of Law Students

The Legal Whiteboard:  Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students -- Part One, by Jerry Organ (St. Thomas):

Analysis of Differential Declines in Law School Applicants Among Top-240 Feeder Schools

Some people recently have noted the decline in applications to law school from graduates of relatively elite colleges and universities - here and  here.  This suggests that different populations of potential applicants to law school are responding differently to market signals about the cost of legal education and the diminished employment prospects for law school graduates in recent years.

In this blog posting, I analyze the changes in applications among the LSAC's Top 240 Feeder Schools between 2010 and 2012, documenting the extent to which the response to market signals about legal education has been different among graduates of elite colleges and universities when compared with graduates of less elite colleges and universities. In Part Two, I will look at a different set of data regarding changes in LSAT profiles of applicants. In Part Three, I will offer some possible explanations for the different responses to market signals among different groups of applicants.

Graduates of elite colleges and universities are opting not to apply to law school at a greater rate than graduates of less elite colleges and universities. One might suppose that this translates to a greater decline in the number of applicants and matriculants with really high LSATs (165 or above) as compared to those with relatively low LSATs (149 and below). In Part 2, I explore whether this supposition is accurate.

The Legal Whiteboard:  Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students -- Part Two, by Jerry Organ (St. Thomas):

This post compares trends in LSAT profiles between 2002 and 2009 with trends between 2010 and 2013, noting that the latter period not only has seen a decline in enrollment but also has seen a significant weakening of the overall LSAT profile of first-years. ...

[T]the number of Fall 2013 matriculants with an average LSAT score of 165+ represents roughly 14% of Fall 2013 matriculants (a slightly higher percentage than in Fall 2002), while the number of Fall 2013 matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 represents over 25% of Fall 2013 matriculants (a much higher percentage than in Fall 2002). The following chart shows the percentage of matriculants for the period from 2002-2013 taking into account the estimates set forth in the preceding paragraph regarding the number of matriculants with an average LSAT in each range over the period from 2010-2013.


This graph shows that the percentage of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ has varied between roughly 13% and roughly 17% percent over the period from 2002-2013, and appears to have returned in Fall 2013 to a percentage only slightly higher than where it was in Fall 2002. By contrast, this chart also shows that the percentage of matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 had varied between roughly 19% and roughly 13% until the Fall 2012 and Fall 2013 groups of matriculants, when the percentages increased to roughly 22% (in 2012) and over 25% (in 2013). ...

This shift in LSAT profile is further evidenced by changes in LSAT profiles among first-year entering classes between 2010 and 2013. For Fall 2010, there were only nine law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower (using highest LSAT for reporting purposes). For Fall 2011, there were 14 law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower. For Fall 2012, there were 21 law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower. That number may grow to nearly 30 when official data is published next spring on the Fall 2013 entering class.

If one uses the LSAT profile as an indicator of the “strength” of a given class of first-year students, and uses the framework set forth above for looking at the LSAT profile, then in the last three years we not only have seen first-year enrollment shrink by roughly 10,000 students, but also have seen a significant “weakening” of the LSAT profile. In terms of LSAT profile, the Fall 2013 entering class is almost certainly the weakest of any class going back to Fall 2002. This may impact the classroom experience at some law schools and may impact bar passage results when the Fall 2013 entering class graduates in 2016.

Update:  ABA Journal, Will 2016 Law Grads Have Trouble With Bar Exam? Law Prof Analyzes LSATs and Sees Possible Impact

Legal Education | Permalink


Are you surprised? Liberal arts colleges every where have become low quality girls' finishing schools, and produce BA's who are barely literate and certainly ignorant of history, literature, economics, science, mathematics and just about anything you would expect a college graduate to know. And this isn't just Cleveland State BA's, it is Harvard BA's. It's no mistake that our delusional and superstitious President comes from Columbia (maybe) and Harvard.

Posted by: bob sykes | Oct 20, 2013 5:27:16 AM

I can't speak for anyone else, but our students seem to me better and more motivated than they have been in a long time. Not all crises are bad.

Posted by: michael livingston | Oct 20, 2013 11:47:46 AM

Nice to know the condescending contempt with which you hold for your previous classes. Guess when they were earning higher LSAT scores and were applying to law schools before the open-door admission policies these days, the classes of the aughts simply were not motivated.

Posted by: Cent Rieker | Oct 20, 2013 2:30:07 PM

Nothing like some super motivated dummies to keep those paychecks coming in, eh professor?

Posted by: D++ | Oct 20, 2013 7:31:14 PM

This is pretty bad. Anyone who cannot break 150 on the LSAT is simply not smart enough to be a lawyer. It is pure exploitation for schools to even take these students. Very few of them will even pass the bar exam.

Posted by: JM | Oct 21, 2013 6:06:39 AM

It doesn't take all that much brain power to do most legal tasks. Instead, it takes dedication and a willingness to educate yourself about things you currently don't understand. I'm not concerned about the decline in LSAT in and of itself.

- Law Prof.

Posted by: Smarts | Oct 21, 2013 7:52:37 AM

That's not surprising law prof. Law school's willingness to scrape the bottom of the applicant barrel reveals law profs only genuine concern: that federal loan money continues to flow into the school via new enrollees. Whether they are capable of becoming lawyers barely qualifies as an afterthought.

Posted by: D++ | Oct 21, 2013 6:07:35 PM