TaxProf Blog

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

More On The Declining Quality Of Law School Applicants

Following up on yesterday's post, Proportion Of Law School Applicants With LSATs > 160 Is Down 35% Since 2010; < 150 Is Up 146%:

American Lawyer Media Morning Minute:
American Lawyer 2

The Recorder, Fewer Law School Applicants in Line for Upcoming School Year:

The number of law school applicants who scored more than 160 on the LSAT has gone down 35 percent since 2010, according to Paul Caron, dean of Pepperdine University School of Law and editor of TaxProf Blog. Inversely, the number of law school applicants with LSAT scores lower than 150 has gone up 146 percent since 2010.

“It’s not a great thing for the profession or for law schools when the best and the brightest are not going to law schools in the same proportion that they have gone in the past,” Caron said in an interview Monday. He said that it’s not a surprise that if LSAT scores are down, three years later, students are having a harder time passing the bar. “It’s not a ringing endorsement for the profession,” he said.

The chain reaction Caron noted is backed by statewide data in California. ...

Caron said it is up to law schools and lawyers to make the legal profession appealing to millennials. He said there are valid criticisms of both the LSAT and the bar exam, but that focusing only on tests ignores the other side of the problem. “There’s been a decline in the top students coming to law school,” he said. “The data are irrefutable there.”

ABA Journal, Those With Good LSAT Scores May Be Choosing to Forgo Law School, Data Indicates:

Law schools have been seeing fewer applicants with LSAT scores of at least 160, while there has been an increase in students with scores between 140 and 159, according to data from Paul Caron, editor of TaxProf Blog. ...

“The story could be that better credentialed college graduates are turning away from going to law school, because they feel they have other opportunities that they feel are more attractive,” Caron told the ABA Journal. “For several years, legal education has taken a pounding. It’s not providing the kinds of opportunities it provided to students in the past.” ...

“It’s kind of like the children’s [game Musical Chairs], Caron says. “There aren’t enough applicants to go around. I can’t imagine that the elite law schools haven’t seen some deterioration in their applicant pools too.”

Above the Law, Law School Applications With Terrible LSAT Scores Are Soaring:

On Pepperdine Law School dean Paul Caron’s popular legal blog, TaxProf Blog, he takes a look at the trend of LSAT scores from 2010 – 2017… and it doesn’t look great. Applicants with less than a 150 LSAT score are up 146 percent over that period. And applications from students that score a 160 or better have dropped 35 percent over that same period of time.

Above the Law, The Law School Brain Drain Continues To Wreak Havoc: Fewer Applicants on Top of Horrible LSAT Scores? Uh-oh ...:

As we previously discussed, the number of law school applicants with LSAT scores of less than 150 has increased by 146 percent over the course of the past 10 years. This is distressing for a number of reasons, and Dean Paul Caron of Pepperdine Law told Karen Sloan of Law.com as much in this interview:

“It’s not a great thing for the profession or for law schools when the best and the brightest are not going to law schools in the same proportion that they have gone in the past,” Caron said in an interview Monday. He said that it’s not a surprise that if LSAT scores are down, three years later, students are having a harder time passing the bar.

“It’s not a ringing endorsement for the profession,” he said.

What is to be done about the law school brain drain? According to Dean Caron, it’s up to law schools to make the legal profession more appealing to millennials. That might not be an easy task, given recent graduates’ inability to pass the bar exam coupled with their burgeoning debt loads. How many recent law grads would recommend going to law school? The answer, we fear, is not many.

Until the wisest of millennials can be convinced that law school is worth the high cost, we may continue to feed the cycle of dismal bar exam passage rates, producing yet another generation of unhappy, unemployed, or underemployed law school graduates. This does not bode well for anyone.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/06/more-on-the-declining-quality-of-law-school-applicants-.html

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Comments

The abuse of young attorneys would make Steve Jobs blush; lawyers eat their young. Why would anyone intelligent follow that rainbow when at its end is a pot of ... nothing.

Posted by: Jim | Jun 13, 2017 6:13:39 AM

I can provide some anecdotal evidence as to why higher quality students are not applying to law school. Medical students, who are smart, ambitious people looking to help others just like law students, have told me that they considered attending law school. These students chose medical school instead because they did not want to risk graduating law school unemployed with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. The decision was not based on potential earnings (one of the students wanted to work as a government lawyer). Rather, the decision to forgo law school was based solely on the risk of never having a legal career.

While the numbers show a decline in the quality of law school applicants in recent years, medical schools are seeing the opposite trend. The AAMC used to publish the average MCAT and GPA of applicants and admitted medical students by year. When I last saw the stats about a year ago, the average MCAT and GPA of applicants and admitted students was trending upward. Medical school admissions officials have also noticed an increase in the quality of applicants. They say applying to medical school is more competitive nowadays. I am curious if other professional schools are seeing an increase in the quality of applicants too.

Unfortunately, some legal academics have tried to explain away the decline in the quality of law school applicants. Supposedly, law schools now attract people that are more serious about a career in law. Some legal academics have taken the Trumpian approach, and just flat out deny there has been a decline. All of that is total nonsense.

Law schools have abdicated their responsibility to lead and protect the legal profession, and our nation. The country needs good lawyers to prosecute criminals, defend the rights of the accused, protect consumers, and seek justice on behalf of all people. Lawyers helped lead the fight to end segregation in this country, because our politicians were too cowardly to do it themselves. And lawyers are stepping up again to protect our nation from Trump. But in the pursuit of profit, law schools have lowered admissions standards and continue to produce more graduates than jobs available. Some law schools have utterly failed to teach their students the knowledge they need to pass the bar exam. Law schools have left it up to the state bar examiners to protect the most vulnerable in our society, such as criminal defendants and consumers, from unqualified law graduates. Seeing the problems in the legal profession, the best and brightest are now turning away from careers in law.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | Jun 13, 2017 9:28:03 AM

The problem is simply that, in the current environment of more reliable and granular employment data, potential consumers of legal education are able to make a cost benefit analysis and are rightly concluding that:

3 yrs of lost earnings + non-dischargeable debt + plus a nasty exam at the end that people are failing at higher and higher rates + roughly a 65% at getting a job that requires a law degree + a chance at a tough profession undergoing structural changes with no guarantees of stability long term = thanks, but no thanks.

The J.D. is a tough sell these days, and rightly so. Indeed, the brightest (reflected by high LSAT scores) have caught on, and moved on. As Dean Caron points out, this does not bode well for the legal profession as schools are all too happy to dumb the J.D. down to fill seats. Costs, and capacity (i.e., the number of schools) will have to contract substantially.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 13, 2017 9:30:19 AM

I believe that the announcement related to the percentage of applicants who have either high or low LSATs. That is different from the number of applicant with those credentials. If the number of applicants has declined by 30%, you would expect that the number of applicants with particular credentials would decline by a similar percentage. Deviations from that would be newsworthy.

Posted by: Bert Lazerow | Jun 13, 2017 12:50:03 PM

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