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Regarding The Admissions “Crisis” At Top Law Schools

Yesterday, Bloomberg Big Law Business posted an article noting the downward spiral in applications to even the top law schools.  For BIBL readers, a couple of interesting takeaways:

First, for my prelaw readers, especially those who are studying for the LSAT or who have taken the LSAT and achieved a desirably high score on the test, ie: “165 and above” according to the article, you should feel pretty good about these developments. Looks like you may have a better shot now at getting into these top law schools, even though they are “slashing class sizes”:

“As applications have dwindled, some of the most exclusive schools have opened their doors a little wider: Top-tier schools admitted a median 7 percent more people in 2015 than they did in 2011.”

Even better, if you get that high LSAT score (and are otherwise desirable with a high undergraduate GPA, fabulous extracurriculars, etc) these schools may actually sweeten the deal with better financial aid packages:

“Top schools have made more substantial investments in financial aid in recent years. We are spending more money on competing for students—and still seeing enrollment decline.”

So great! There is opportunity here for students, which is always a good thing.

Second, I think it’s interesting that despite the “crisis” of declining law school applications, these top tier law schools pretty much refuse to “lower admission standards”–ie: admit students with lower than a 165 on the LSAT. Though I am happy to see that Emory appears to be somewhat of an exception:

“Emory has cut its first-year student body by 5 percent since 2011, but has admitted students with lower LSAT scores over that period. The median LSAT score of its new students has not changed.”

The article goes on to cite the “risk” that these top law schools face if they were to somehow “lower” their standards:

“The risk of taking in students who do worse on the entrance exam is that those people may gain less from their $120,000 and three year investment in law school. Scores on the LSAT have been shown to predict first-year law school performance, and they correlate with a person’s success on the bar exam.”

But I think this point is a little misleading. I would like to know what Bloomberg Big Law is relying on to state the correlation between LSAT and performance in school/success on the bar exam.

I’ve seen studies showing a “correlation” between low LSAT scores and inability to pass the bar exam when LSAT takers have scored lower than 150 on the LSAT. What about the thousands of students (like myself) who score above 150, but lower than the more desirable score of 165? Doesn’t research show that these students scoring in the 150-165 range can do well in law school and pass the bar? And don’t more students fall in this rather wide range? So isn’t that stated concern of these elite schools just a smoke screen?

Really, these top law schools just want to continue admitting only the highest LSAT scoring students, not because these students will eventually pass the bar, but because these numbers are what keep the U.S. News & World Report ranking high for the law school. Fair to say then that elite schools only care about rankings? Here is where the Bloomberg article gets to the the truth:

We made a conscious decision in order to maintain the caliber of the student body, the quality of the education, and frankly, to keep our ranking high,” said David Wippman, dean of the University of Minnesota Law School.”

Not really a news flash, I guess.  Call me naive, but I can’t help but hope that maybe someday law schools (and law firms) will get over this obsession with rankings and instead focus on what actually matters in the practical day-to-day reality of practicing law: hard work, grit and creative intelligence–not always things that are accurately measured by standardized tests (says the girl who only scored a 157 on the LSAT, yet did well in law school, passed the bar, and now works in BigLaw).

 

Author Rachel Gezerseh

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