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

Correction:  This post originally contained inaccurate data.  I have deleted the inaccurate data and urge readers to see my later post, The Quantity And Quality Of Law School Applicants.

Following up on yesterday's post:

American Lawyer Media Morning Minute:
American Lawyer 2

Legal Education | Permalink


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