Here’s a fun way of looking at the new U.S. News law school rankings that arrived last night: are the top-tier law schools getting dumber?
We’ve reported a lot on the declining number of applications to law school. And we’ve also talked about how the people who do better on the LSAT are more likely to not apply to law school (most likely because they have better options), while poor LSAT scorers are still eager to go to law school.
Maybe the LSAT really is an accurate test of logical reasoning skills.
Fewer applications overall but a higher share of them from people with poor LSAT scores should lead to a drop in the median LSAT score at top schools. As the smart people flee law school (“smart” as a measure of LSAT score, for whatever that’s worth), it should mean that better law schools have to grab more low-hanging LSAT fruit.
And that is what has in fact happened….
The Constitutional Daily has done some quick analysis on the declining median LSAT scores from the newly minted top-50 law schools:
Synopsis of Schools Ranked 1-50 (52 schools, because of a 4-way tie at 48)
LSAT 25th and 75th Percentile Changes
Number of schools with a gain in both LSAT 25 and 75: 3
Number of schools with a gain in 1 of LSAT 25 and 75: 5
Number of schools with a gain in one and a loss in the other: 6
Number of schools with a loss of 1 of LSAT 25 and 75: 13
Number of schools with a loss of both LSAT 25 and 75: 18
Number of schools with no change: 7
Average 25th Percentile Move: -0.77
Average 75th Percentile Move: -0.037
Constitutional Daily has similar numbers showing a decline in undergraduate GPA.
These drops are not insignificant. The biggest LSAT score drop occurred at Georgia Law:
The biggest loser among the top 50 was the University of Georgia, which dropped -4/-1 for its LSAT 25/75. It’s LSAT 25 dropped from 162 to 158, and remember that since the LSAT is on a bell curve, the further you go, the more significant a single point change is. That change represents a drop from the 86th percentile to the 75th.
Now here’s the point where defenders of the current system of legal education get out their organ grinder and start yelling, “Come to law school, come to law school now, great deals for people who previously couldn’t get into law school!” But that’s not a great argument.
To be sure, there are deals to be had. One imagines that a school like Georgia is now very happy to give a full-ride scholarship to a person who gets a 165 to come to Georgia (as opposed to Alabama), where in a better market that 165 LSAT scorer would receive a more modest package.
But the problem with law school isn’t really the person who gets a 165 and gets a full ride. The problem is the person who gets a 160, gets into Georgia anyway (because the school has to fill its seats), and ends up essentially subsidizing the full ride of the 165 student by taking out massive loans.
Or maybe that 165 student gets into Vanderbilt with no money and subsidizes the full ride of the kid with 170 who is now able to go to Vandy for free. The point is that just because law schools are scrambling to fill seats doesn’t mean that a mediocre LSAT score is suddenly a golden ticket. Chances are, scores that would do well in any market will still do well, and scores that are middling will end up subsidizing somebody else’s education, albeit at a better school than before the recession.
And don’t even get me started on the people who fall for this “buy now” argument yet struggle to break 150. Paying full freight for any(?) law school outside the top schools is a risky financial decision. Paying full freight so you can jump from the 120th law school to the 99th law school is straight dumb.
Of course, it’s possible that the people most able to understand the arguments for and against going to law school are already not putting themselves in the pool of prospective law school applicants. The best LSAT scorers are opting out. And that raises questions about who is still opting in.
The Great Law School Brain Drain [Constitutional Daily]