Paul L. Caron

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Will Denying Admission To Students With 'At-Risk' LSAT Scores Keep Minorities, Poor From Becoming Lawyers?

Following up on Wednesday's post, LSAC, LST Debate The Use Of LSAT Scores As A Bar Passage Predictor:

Sheldon Bernard Lyke (Whittier), Adding Clarity to Law School Transparency:

Lower tiered law schools that admit students with low LSAT scores should be celebrated for providing an opportunity to enter the legal profession for those students at the margins of society. Unfortunately, their work has lately been characterized as predatory in popular media like The Atlantic and the NYT. With its 2015 State of Legal Education report, Law School Transparency (LST) has instigated a dangerous national discourse, arguing that some ABA-accredited law schools have been engaged in a process of admitting students with low LSAT scores (which the LST labels “high risk”) who do not have a reasonable chance of passing the bar. LST’s framing of these law school’s actions is disturbing given that: (1) the LSAT is at best a weak predictor of first-time bar passage, and (2) there is no evidence that law school graduates are not eventually passing the bar.

As a sociologist and law professor at Whittier Law School—one of the law schools that LST has labelled as high-risk—I decided to take a closer look at the results that LST relies on in coming to its conclusions about bar passage and risk.

LST relies strongly on results published in the LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study (LSAC Study). I agree with the recent press release by the LSAC that it is problematic to use a 25 year old study to assess current bar passage risk. Over the past 25 years, the LSAT has not only changed with respect to its score scaling, but also its content and substance. However, even if you assume you can draw current inferences about today’s LSAT from the decades old LSAC Study, it fails to provide evidence supporting LST’s contentions. ...

Law school administrators and faculty must resist perpetuating and participating in the dangerous narrative advanced by LST. Others have highlighted the paternalistic and problematic nature of this narrative. In recent years, law school applications have been in decline. This has made it somewhat easier for an individual to get accepted into a law school. When admissions standards become easier, those at the margins of society—specifically the poor and black & brown racial and ethnic minorities—have the potential to benefit. But just at the moment when it becomes easier for those at the margins to gain admission into the legal profession, the media and organizations like LST engage in a crusade to vilify law schools and pressure them into accepting fewer students. This is done in the name of “transparency” and a paternalist drive to help the “unqualified” applicant who is at high risk of failing the bar. Instead, LST’s strategy is at high risk of keeping black and brown people, and the poor from having the opportunity to ever sit for a bar.

David Frakt (Chair, Law School Transparency National Advisory Committee), Seeking Clarity — Some Dangerous Questions for Professor Lyke:

I was pleased to see Professor Sheldon Lyke's attempt to defend Whittier's admission practices. His post raised many questions in my mind.  In this reply, I will pose some questions to Professor Lyke that I hope he will answer in a future post.  I encourage other readers to add additional questions for Professor Lyke in the comments.

Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Comment:

[T]he point of the LST report [is] to urge responsibility, not only among schools that are admitting too many students destined to fail, but among the profession as a whole. There has always been a tension between providing access to the profession and setting students up to fail. Law schools managed that tension relatively well because they had so many applicants to choose from. But these times are different: with the decline in applications, some schools have become dramatically less selective. At the same time, tuition is high and jobs are more scarce. We really are in danger of doing what lenders did: applying one paradigm, which forecast reasonable success, to a very different group of students living under different circumstances. The differences here are not about race; they are about tuition, projected bar success, and employment.

Legal Education | Permalink


Say what you will about payday lenders, but it (presumably) has twice the number of black and Hispanic customers that JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have. That suggests their claim to improve access to financial services for minorities is genuine.

Posted by: Cent Rieker | Dec 8, 2015 6:45:07 PM

By all means, lets repeat the home mortgage crisis (where people without the economic wherewithal to own homes were lured into dumping what little money they had into buying over-priced homes they were unlikely to be able to hold on to) in the law school environment. Lure in under-qualified students who are unlikely to be able to successfully complete the program, get them saddled with hundreds of thousands of student loan debt, and then dump them into an anemic job market.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Dec 8, 2015 5:00:58 AM

Say what you will about Whittier but it has twice the number of black and hispanic students that UC Irvine and UCLA have. That suggests their claim to help improve access to legal education for minorities is genuine.

Posted by: anon | Dec 7, 2015 11:39:00 PM

@ Gus,

In 2014, Whittier had 1352 applicants (down from 2245 applicants in 2011), 997 were accepted, and 239 enrolled. That's a mighty 23.9% yield.

P.S. I misread the columns in the 2011 ABA Form 509: the percentage of 1L's who were minorities that year was 41.7%, not 47%. Still, it doesn't represent much of a change: given that the entering classes are in the 230-250 range, the change from 41.7% to 48% represents about 13 or 15 people.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 7, 2015 9:18:36 AM

Interesting stats -- what's the yield rate on Whittier's 73.7% acceptance rate? Given the low selectivity, are people flocking to Whittier?

Posted by: Gus Santorano | Dec 7, 2015 8:34:52 AM

Data that just might be of relevance:

- Median LSAT was six points higher in 2010, 25th percentile LSAT was seven points higher. Median GPA was more than a tenth higher in 2010.

- By lowering their LSAT and GPA standards by such a drastic measure, Whittier has managed to increase the percentage of minority 1L's from 47% in 2011 all the way to 48.1% in 2014.

- Oh, and the number of applicants dropped 40% between 2011 and 2014 while the school's acceptance rate increased from 55% to 73.7%. That's higher than the national average undergraduate acceptance rate, folks.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 6, 2015 9:46:52 PM