The decade from 2010 to 2019 has been a challenging decade in terms of enrollment in law schools. I have written previously here and here about the changing composition of the cohort of matriculants at ABA-accredited law schools. This blog post updates the analysis of enrollment trends to look at how the composition of the entering class of matriculants based on LSAT scores evolved between 2010 and 2019.
Table 1 shows the trend lines for the applicant pool and matriculants from 2010 to 2019 based on data maintained by the ABA. The applicant pool started at 87,900 for fall 2010 and bottomed with 54,500 for fall 2016. Since then it has increased gradually to 63,000 in 2019. The current cycle suggests another modest increase in applicants, perhaps close to 64,000. The number of matriculants fell from a high of 52,000 in 2010 to a low of 37,100 in 2016 and 2017 and has increased modestly to 38,400 in 2019. My best guess is that we will end up in about the same place this fall, somewhere between 38,000 and 38,500 in terms of the number of matriculants.
While the applicant pool and the cohort of matriculants shrank in size between 2010 and 2016, the applicant pool and cohort of matriculants also saw a general weakening in terms of LSAT profile from 2010 to 2016, but has since seen a strengthening over the last three years. Table 2 highlights the growth in the number of matriculants with a high LSAT below 150 (from 7,000 in 2010 to 8,620 in 2016), while the number of matriculants in all other LSAT categories fell from 2010 to 2015. Indeed, among those with a high LSAT of 160 or higher, the number of matriculants fell from roughly 20,100 in 2010 to roughly 11,200 in 2015. Starting with fall 2016 through fall 2019, all LSAT categories from 150 and above have seen increases in terms of the number of matriculants, while the number of matriculants with a high LSAT less than 150 has fallen from 8,620 in 2016 to less than 6,400 in 2019.
Table 3 highlights the composition of the matriculants on a percentage basis segregated into three LSAT categories — 160+, 150-159 and <150 — between 2010 at the top and 2019 at the bottom. The 160+ category drops from 40.8 percent of the class in 2010 to 32 percent of the class in 2015, while the <150 category increases from 14.2 percent of the class in 2010 to 23.8 percent of the class in 2015. By 2018 and 2019, however, the percentage at 160+ had increased back to 36.1 percent in 2018 and 36.7 percent in 2019, while the percentage at <150 had declined back to 19.1 percent in 2018 and 16.8 percent in 2019. Interestingly, the percentage between 150 and 159 is relatively stable throughout the decade, dropping from 45 percent in 2010 to 43.6 percent in 2014 and then climbing to 46.5 percent in 2019.
Table 4 looks at this from a slightly different perspective, but with a similar lesson. Table 4 focuses on law schools — looking at the trends with respect to the number of law schools with a median LSAT in each of six LSAT categories. During the first part of the decade the three highest LSAT categories — 165+, 160-164, and 155-159 — see declines, while the three lowest LSAT categories — 150-154, 145-149, and <145 — all see increases. Starting in 2017, this trend reverses.
Finally, Table 5, much like Table 3, looks at law schools with a median LSAT in each of three LSAT categories — 160+, 150-159, and <150. This image looks remarkably similar to Table 3. The number of law schools with a median LSAT between 150-159 is remarkably stable, ranging between 105 and 110, with eight of the ten years being between 108 and 110. But from 2010 through 2016, the number of law schools with a median LSAT of 160+ drops from 77 to 49, while the number of law schools with a median LSAT less than 150 increases from 9 to 42. But starting in 2017, that trend reverses and there is a growth in law schools with a median LSAT of 160+ and a decrease in law schools with a median LSAT of <150.
Table 5 -- Number of Law Schools with a Median LSAT in Three LSAT Categories -- 2010-2019
The current admissions cycle is likely to see these trends continue, as there has been growth in the number of applicants with an LSAT of 165+ (up about 700, or about 8%) and a decline in the number of applicants with an LSAT of <155 (down about 1000, or about 3%).
While the bar results this year will be impossible to compare with prior years because of the varied approaches to the bar exam across multiple jurisdictions, these data suggest that bar passage results in 2021 and beyond should be better than they have been in recent years because the cohort of graduates is getting stronger based on entering class LSAT profiles in 2018 and 2019 and 2020.