Paul L. Caron

Monday, October 26, 2015

LST: 2015 State of Legal Education: An In-Depth Look Into Law School Admissions Choices

LST Following up on yesterday's post, NY Times: A Majority Of Law Schools Are Scamming Students And Taxpayers:  Law School Transparency, 2015 State of Legal Education: An In-Depth Look Into Law School Admissions Choices:

A problem for our profession and society

Law school enrollment is the lowest it's been since the 1960's. To remain financially viable, many law schools are admitting many people who face real risk of not completing school or of failing the bar. The bargain is clear: take larger, riskier classes now to survive and deal with the accreditation challenges, angry alumni, and bad press that follow later.


But at what cost, and to whom? And should we collectively enable this bargain?

We need lawyers. Yet too many schools hoping to produce the next generation of lawyers are failing the profession and society today—not to mention the students they're setting up to fail. To reinvigorate the law school pipeline, we must address the substantive issues that drive prospective law students away from the legal profession. We must ensure that law schools make responsible enrollment choices and become more affordable.

Take action to reinvigorate the law school pipeline

This investigative report is a call to action for the following stakeholders:


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“Let's say the ABA proposed to shut down the ‘bottom’ 50 law schools. Would that raise antitrust concerns?”

No, not if the basis was their poor performance on the bar exam, “course completion” (i.e., dropout rates) and employment based on the law degree.

The argument is a canard that is circulated from time to time in response to arguments about reform (using the occasions where there was genuine cartel like behavior in accreditation to bolster it.) The ABA Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar gets its authority under 20 U.S.C. §1099b and 34 CFR 602.

20 U.S.C. §1099(b)(a)(5)(A) specifically provides that:

(5) the standards for accreditation of the agency or association assess the institution’s—
(A) success with respect to student achievement in relation to the institution’s mission, which may include different standards for different institutions or programs, as established by the institution, including, as appropriate, consideration of State licensing examinations, consideration of course completion, and job placement rates.

That is in fact the first of several criteria listed, which suggests that considerable importance is placed on it. Similar provisions are copied over in to the CFR regs.

As long as the ABA Section is in fact enforcing the actual provisions – that is to say, obeying the mandate of federal law, it is not subject to antitrust liability.

Posted by: MacK | Oct 27, 2015 3:06:50 AM

@anon the ABA wouldn't do that. they'd de-accredit based on their standards not being met. they'll be sued, but would likely win going away

Posted by: anon | Oct 26, 2015 2:14:55 PM

Let's say the ABA proposed to shut down the "bottom" 50 law schools. Would that raise antitrust concerns?

Posted by: anon | Oct 26, 2015 11:38:51 AM

Wow, that's a low MA pass percentage! And an interesting point JM brings up with Suffolk and NESL. I went to Suffolk's 2014 Form 509, which has bar exam information for the prior 3 years (2011-13). As it turns out, there is quite a bit of fluctuation in Suffolk's number of MA bar exam takers, from 379 in 2011 to 531 in 2013. 61 1L's left in the most recent year on that 509, either from attrition or transferring out. Also, about 115 of those entering Suffolk students are going to be night students, which is a 4 year program. It may be that more Suffolk students are sitting out the bar or taking other states' exams, but I'm not sure we have enough concrete data at hand to know.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 26, 2015 10:05:46 AM

NESL's ABA 509 lists almost 30% attrition for the 1L class that started in 2013, split about evenly between fail outs, transfers, and "other." I'd imagine the class starting in 2012 was similar.

Bottom tier law schools face pressure at both ends of their classes - the best students transfer, and the poor students fail out. The end result is a much smaller graduating class.

Posted by: Lonnie | Oct 26, 2015 9:36:21 AM

@ Mike Livingston - the difference between Rutgers and a for profit law school is one of degree not of kind. Your school may leave fewer destitute indebted dupes, but not zero.

Posted by: terry malloyt | Oct 26, 2015 9:20:01 AM

The Massachusetts bar exam results came out, and there was actually a slight uptick in the first time passage rate (79%, although far below historical norms). However, I notices something strange. Far fewer grads from the lower ranked schools are taking the bar than would be expected. For example, New England School of Law had an entering class of 450 in 2012, yet only 191 sat for the bar in July 2015. That is just 42%. By contrast, BU and BC saw 67% of the 2012 entering class sit for the Mass. bar, and I am most of the remaining class sat for the bar in other jurisdictions. NESL is far more of a regional school, and historically they really only practice in Mass. Same with Suffolk, which had 60% of the 2012 class sit for the bar.

Are more schools finding ways to prevent grads from sitting for the bar? This is tantamount to failing in my book. It certainly has the same effect on the market.

Posted by: JM | Oct 26, 2015 7:20:37 AM

The people at Law School Transparency have done a tremendous job over the years. I have no idea what compensation the team at LST receives for their work because it's a non-profit, but that makes it all the more impressive.

Posted by: Reginald Pembroke III | Oct 26, 2015 7:03:25 AM

Mike Livingston,

Um, no. "Yet for-profit schools are not the only offenders. A majority of American law schools, which have nonprofit status, are increasingly engaging in such behavior, and in the process threatening the future of legal education."

The status quo has changed.


Everyone who cares about the legal profession except law faculty.

Posted by: Jojo | Oct 26, 2015 5:08:27 AM

The story was basically talking about a few for-profit law schools. It is an issue, but it shouldn't be overstated, as it usually is.

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 26, 2015 4:29:25 AM