We’ve talked before about the law school brain drain. Essentially, and despite the best efforts of some law professors, the students with the best “logical reasoning skills” as measured by the LSAT are avoiding law school at a higher rate than people at shallow end of the LSAT pool.
There are a couple of possible explanations. Sure, you could say that smarter people aren’t being fooled by the law school value proposition and are making wiser choices. But you could also say that people who test well will naturally have more non-law-school options as the economy recovers.
Still, the fact that law school looks like a bad option to more and more people with lots of options is something that should worry law school administrators — you know, if law school administrators worried about the long-term viability of the current system of legal education.
In Non-Sequiturs on Tuesday, we mentioned a new chart that illustrates this brain drain from a non-LSAT angle. I wasn’t here on Tuesday, so I wanted to highlight it and talk about it a little. Let’s look at whether students from top colleges are applying to law school…
This chart was prepared by Keith Lee at An Associate’s Mind:
It shows that students at Ivy League colleges — as well as the Harvard of the West (Stanford), the Harvard of the South (Duke), and the Harvard of the Republicans (Chicago) — are avoiding law school in droves. This stark downturn in law school applications shows, if nothing else, that students at top universities are able to parse through the BS coming out of legal academia at a pretty high level.
What the chart doesn’t show, obviously, is if these reductions are mirrored at less prestigious colleges and universities. Are law school applications down by similar percentages from students who go to college in the SEC? Are kids from [insert small liberal arts university that makes you think of "dance majors"] also staying away from law school more than ever before? Are people at all schools: prestigious or not, looking at law school with a more critical eye?
I think the implications are important when you look at pre-law programs. If there is a real separation between elite schools and non-elite schools, one additional factor (beyond some kind of “student quality”) might be the efficacy of pre-law advisors at those schools. It takes a village… to disabuse someone of the notion that law school is a prudent investment for everyone.
But my gut is that pre-law programs are just as crappy as they’ve always been. When I was at school, my pre-law advisor hadn’t even been to law school. I think my “pre-law” training involved reading Brown v. Board of Ed. and taking Justice with Michael Sandel. Nobody ever talked to me about debt, value, “Biglaw,” panic attacks, and sadness. And that was in a market where most people got jobs. Most of the current law students I talk to report similar levels of uselessness from their pre-law experiences.
Absent some external factor like the quality of pre-law advising, then I think you are looking at something like a brain drain from law school. What’s interesting here is that the students at these top universities are probably in the best position to go to the best law schools, which at the very least probably represent the safest option for legal education resulting in a good job. And still the applications are way, way down.
It’s a disturbing trend, but you’re not going to convince top college grads to go to law school unless you are offering them something of significant value.
Top University Students Avoiding Law School – Charts Edition! [An Associate's Mind]
Earlier: Brain Drain From Top-50 Law Schools