Paul L. Caron

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Troubling Decline of 25th Percentile LSAT Scores at 'Bottom-Feeder' Law Schools

LSAT (2015)Bloomberg Businessweek:  Getting Into Law School Is Easier Than It Used to Be, and That's Not Good, by Natalie Kitroeff:

Getting into law school with low test scores is easier than it used to be. 

Low scores on the Law School Admission Test have dipped at most schools in recent years, a new report shows. A paper released last month by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the nonprofit that creates part of the bar exam, shows that since 2010, 95 percent of the 196 U.S. law schools at least partially accredited by the American Bar Association for which the NCBE had data lowered their standards for students near the bottom of the pack.

[See pages 7-11 of the The Bar Examiner, Vol. 83, No. 4 (Dec. 2014) for this data on all 200 law schools: ]


Standards aren't just falling at lower-tier schools—Emory University, ranked among the top 20 U.S. law schools by U.S. News and World Report, had the single largest drop in LSAT scores for this group, enrolling bottom-tier students who'd scored nine points worse than three years earlier (on a test where 120 is the lowest score and 180 is the highest score.) In fact, 20 of the 22 U.S. News top-20 schools—there was a three-way tie for 20th place—were enrolling students with lower test scores. Across all schools, LSAT scores for the 25th percentile dropped an average of three points. ...

The median LSAT score across all schools has also declined, by 1.7 points from 2010-13, according to the LSAC. Academically weaker students aren't the only thing threatening U.S. law schools—first-year enrollment is down 28 percent across ABA-accredited schools since 2010. Emory's enrollment declined 21 percent from 2010 to 2013. 


Below are the schools that saw the 25th-percentile LSAT score drop the most of over 200 accredited U.S. law schools from 2010 to 2013.

-9:   Emory (to 157)
-7:   Arizona Summit (141), Charlotte (141), Elon (146), Suffolk (145)
-6:   Arizona (155), Ave Maria (141), Baylor (156), Faulkner (142), Illinois (157), New England (145), Valparaiso (141), Vermont (147), Villanova (153), Western New England (145), Willamette (148)

The 2014 data is available here.

The Faculty Lounge:  Parsing the Bloomberg Businessweek Article on Law School Admissions, by David Frakt (Barry):

The Bloomberg article mostly gets it right, but misses some important points that only someone well-versed in LSAT scores and law school admissions practices would know, and gets a couple of things flat wrong.  In this post, I will identify and explain some of the points they missed or misinterpreted.

First, the article notes that 95% of the 196 ABA accredited law schools dropped their LSAT scores at the 25th percentile since 2010.  Almost every law school in America, aside from a very small handful of schools that “got hot” in the last couple of years and saw an uptick in applications, lowered their admission standards.  But if you look at the NCBE report, many law schools appear to have lowered their standards only very slightly, when in fact most of them have lowered their standards significantly.  It is just that many law schools managed to hide this fact.  How does a law school lower its standards without appearing to do so?  The answer lies in the fact that law schools are only required to report their LSAT profiles at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile.   The only thing known about the scores of the bottom 24% are that they are at or below those at the 25th percentile. ...

The Bloomberg article also reports that 20 of the top 22 ranked law schools dropped their LSAT scores at the 25th percentile between 2010 and 2013, and identified Emory University as experiencing the biggest drop, at 9 points.  The article lists the twenty schools with the biggest drop in points and this includes several prestigious schools. ... What is truly alarming about the NCBE report is not the declines at top schools, but the massive declines in the 25th percentile at many bottom tier schools, including Charlotte School of Law, Suffolk and Arizona Summit with 7 point drops, Valparaiso, Faulkner, Western New England, New England School of Law and Ave Maria with 6 point drops and Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Whittier, Pace, Capital, Charleston, Florida Coastal, and Dayton all with 5 point drops.  The biggest drop in terms of LSAT percentile score between 2010 and 2013 was actually not at Emory, but at Suffolk.  Their 25th percentile went from 152 to 145, a drop from 51.6% on the LSAT to 26.7%, a 24.9% decline.  And the most alarming drops were at Charlotte School of Law, Arizona Summit, Florida Coastal, Valparaiso and Ave Maria, all of which dropped their bottom 25th percentile LSAT to 141 in 2013 or 15.8% on the LSAT.  (Texas Southern and Thomas Cooley were also at 141 in 2013 but didn’t have to drop as far to get there.) Dishonorable mention goes to Faulkner University with a 25th percentile at 142 or 18.1%.

Looking at the recently released ABA Standard 509 reports for 2014, several of these bottom-feeding schools have continued to lower their standards into the abyss.  Suffolk, for example, continued their downward spiral and came in at 143, joining Texas Southern and Thomas Cooley, who both rebounded somewhat this year to 143, up two points.  Faulkner held the line at 142 this year, while Valparaiso held steady at 141.  But other schools that could ill afford to lower their standards any further, did so anyway.  The 2014 25th percentile Hall of Shame: tied for third place, Arizona Summit and Florida Coastal School of Law, down one point to 140 (13.4%); in second place, Ave Maria, down two points to 139 (11.6%); and our Grand Prize Winner (drum roll please) -  Charlotte School of Law, down 3 points at 138, cracking the vaunted 10th percentile barrier at 9.7%!

And the really scary thing? 24% of students at these schools may be even lower.  That’s the real story that Bloomberg Businessweek simply missed.

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Some smart people are choosing a different profession.

Posted by: Bruce | Jan 11, 2015 10:13:02 AM

Is this any surprise? The LSAT is graded on a curve. The top schools are still filling their classes. In an era of plunging applications, there's nowhere for lower-ranked schools' entering credentials to go but down.

Posted by: Jack Bogdanski | Jan 11, 2015 7:07:10 PM