Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 7, 2018

Testy: The Quantity And Quality Of Law School Applicants: 2018 Edition

Testy (2018)Kellye Testy (President and CEO, Law School Admission Council), The Quantity and Quality of Law School Applicants: 2018 Edition:

So much has changed in legal education since last summer, when Paul and I first teamed up to post the “state of the state” of law school admission. Back then, the numbers were not good, and neither was the morale of law school administrators and faculty. What a difference a year has made!

Paul’s July 31, 2018 blog post declared: “Legal Education Gets Its Mojo Back.” The buzz started at the end of 2017, and the 2018-2019 admission cycle ended with an 8.1 percent increase in law school applicants and 8.7 percent increase in applications. 

There has been much speculation about the reasons for this increase, the largest since 2010, so I will refrain from doing that. I like data, and LSAC has set as a priority to enhance the useful data available to the legal education community. You can now access applicant and LSAT trends data, updated daily on our website,—no password required. I invite you to interact with the data—it is easy to access, and great for presentations. As our new website launches on September 12, you will find additional tools to enhance public information about legal education.

The graphs below break down the LSAT score ranges for the 2018-2019 applicants. There is no mistaking the results: the increase in law school applicants has been driven by a significant increase in candidates in the top LSAT score ranges. Candidates with a high score between 160 and 180 increased by 2,329, or 16.5 percent, from last year. Both the quantity AND quality of law school applicants has increased, including their diversity. The trend of female applicants outnumbering male applicants continued, with a 9.2 percent increase in female applicants compared to a 6.1 percent increase in males. Applicant volume increased across all racial and ethnic groups, including 6.8 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native; 13.8 percent for Asian; 6.1 percent for Black/African American, and 8.5 percent for Hispanic/Latino. That’s good news for law schools, and it’s good news for the future of the legal profession overall.

At this point, it’s hard to predict 2019-2020 applicant volume, but the early trends are looking good. Because we have increased the number of LSAT administrations in the 2018-2019 cycle, it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison, but it looks like LSAT takers, which comprise 99 percent of law school applicants, will be at least even with last year once the year-end numbers are in. We are actively at work developing more sophisticated predictive models for applicant volume, and while we won’t ever have a crystal ball, we will have more to share on that new tool soon.

And increasing the number of test administrations is not the only change we are making. To ensure that applicants now and in the future are assessed on the skills that will allow them to succeed in law school and beyond, this fall LSAC will administer its periodic skills analysis survey to assess the skills legal educators see as necessary to succeed in law school. This data is then used to ensure that the LSAT accurately measures those skills. We are assembling an advisory group from legal education that will help us analyze and implement the results. I expect that I will again be teaming up with Paul and others to share that report later this year.

Bottom line: both the overall number of applicants and the quality of applicants is improving. There are still lots of important issues and questions—What does the legal job market hold and how should admission levels be calibrated based on that market? How can the legal profession advance access to justice for far too many unrepresented or underrepresented people and causes? How can we continue to improve diversity across many different measures?—but it’s nice to have some good news about applicants and admissions. I hope we can all use this as a springboard for our collective work in delivering ever more value to students and the society we all serve.

Chart 1

The above chart shows the relative proportion each year of applicants by score group, with a sum of 100 for each year. It does not reflect increases or decreases in the number of applicants in these groups.

Chart 2

The graph below shows the 25-year trend for ABA applicants’ LSAT scores, going back to 1993.

Chart 3

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