Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LSAT-Free Law School Admissions Can Goose U.S. News Ranking

My MoneyLaw colleague Tom Bell (Chapman) notes Michigan's new Wolverine Scholars Program -- in which Michigan undergrads with a minimum 3.80 GPA are admitted to Michigan Law School if they agree to not take the LSAT.  The rankings benefit is that there is no LSAT score to report to U.S. News, while the minimum 3.80 GPA will boost Michigan's median 3.64 GPA, which counts 10% in U.S. News' methodology. Other schools presumably will follow Michigan's lead and create similar programs to recruit their undergrads while also goosing their U.S. news ranking.

Update #1: As usual, my Law Professor Blog Network colleague Bill Henderson (Indiana) hits the nail on the head:

The rankings motive is further corroborated by the disqualification if the potential Wolverine Scholar has taken the LSAT. ... [T]here are terrible externalities from this alleged merit-based program. It is impossible to deny that the Wolverine Scholars program will encourage students to (a) take easier classes and majors to avoid the need to take the LSAT to get into an elite law school, (b) discourage extracurriculars that will threaten the 3.8, and (c) make a lot of Michigan undergraduate professors miserable with complaints from students that their B+ or A- grade is going to blow their Wolverine Scholar application.

From a rankings perspective, what happens when you get 20, 30, or 40 candidates with 3.8+ UPGA and no LSAT score? From day 1 of admissions season, Michigan has much greater latitude to lock in higher median LSAT and UPGA numbers--because zero Wolverine Scholars are dragging down the LSAT and all are helping the UPGA numbers. Further, because of the idiosyncrasies of the USNWR rankings formula, see Ted Seto's Understanding the U.S. News Law School Rankings, at the upper ranges, small changes in UGPA have a much greater sway on rankings that a single LSAT point. For example, in the simulation model that Andy Morriss and I created, a move from 3.64 to 3.66 has a greater effect than a move from 169 to 170. If Michigan can get to a 3.80 UGPA, they could tie with NYU at #5.

Update #2:  A reader let me know that Georgetown has a similar Early Assurance Program:

Early Assurance applicants are exempt from taking the LSAT and registering with the LSDAS. Instead, please include an official transcript with at least five semesters of undergraduate grades. Early Assurance applicants must submit two recommendations, one of which must be the Early Assurance Dean's Certification Form. Competitive Early Assurance applicants should have an undergraduate GPA of at least a 3.8.

Update #3:  For more, see:

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I guess I'm a tad skeptical the last post was by an actual Georgetown faculty member, given the factual errors about the LSAT scores relative to Chicago and about Texas cutting a section. But the basic thesis--a way to lock in strong undergrads who are LSAT-lazy--does seem plausible.

Posted by: Brian | Sep 27, 2008 9:40:03 AM

For GULC this is a lock-in device to capture the top of the Georgetown undergrad class. We'd do this for other schools if the ABA would allow it. It's a way to lock-in risk-averse and LSTA-lazy students.

And it just doesn't affect GULC's rankings. LSATs aren't our problem---they're better than Chicago's. Moreover, the gap between us and Vandy is so large that we don't have to worry about them catching up, and we're held down by USNWR's treatment of adjuncts and lack of endowment. The former is just ridiculous, because our some of our adjuncts are of better quality than an awful lot of faculty even at other top-tier schools; in what other system is the former S-G a liability?

If we wanted to game the system we'd pull a Texas and cut a section to boost faculty:student ratio and average LSAT/GPA.

Posted by: GULC Faculty | Sep 26, 2008 8:40:16 PM

Maybe requiring no LSAT is a somewhat cynical attempt to lock these top students in to going to Michigan Law?

If they let you take the LSAT, then you might get into other law schools and, on reflection with more information, decide to go to a higher-ranked one instead of Michigan! But if you can't take the LSAT, then if you pursue this route, you've made your choice already.

In fact, maybe the gaming of the system, if it's going on, actually has to do with improving YIELD?

Posted by: anon | Sep 26, 2008 10:35:39 AM

Exactly: GULC does not stop you from taking the LSAT. I would go so far as to say that's a HUGE difference. Sure, there will be some people who get their 3.8, skip the LSAT, and coast into law school. But most people, having worked at least relatively hard for that 3.8, will want to test the water. If she knocks it out of the park, some other school will snatch up that coveted 3.8/173+. If, on the other hand, she tanks the LSAT... she's headed to GULC. Then the crucial question becomes: does GULC have to report this mediocre score? Even though they accepted her a year before she took the LSAT?

Posted by: Former GULCer | Sep 26, 2008 5:53:20 AM

I feel that I should point out that, unlike the Michigan law program, Georgetown does not require a prospective student to refrain from taking the LSAT. This seems to be, at least to me, a not insignificant difference.

Posted by: GULC Grad | Sep 25, 2008 1:33:07 PM

Maybe you should read the guidelines more closely. UMich undergrads with a 3.8 or better are NOT admitted automatically, which your blog erroneously implies.

Posted by: Michigan 2010 | Sep 25, 2008 12:57:32 PM

Law schools are becoming as "honest" as Wall Street CDO resellers.

Posted by: 30-year Prof | Sep 25, 2008 10:38:37 AM

USNWR solution? Require total counts for students who took the LSAT. Count everyone who didn't take the LSAT as a 120.

Posted by: dt | Sep 25, 2008 9:22:40 AM

US News rankings are stupid for so may reasons, and this is one of them. Still, US News should respond by recording these Michigan students as a 150 on the LSAT. The rankings are stupid, but Michigan is cheating.

Posted by: Dellis | Sep 25, 2008 8:46:35 AM