Boutique Law Firms, Law Schools, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

The Great Law School Brain Drain

I noticed over at the Tax Prof Blog that the LSAC has begun releasing data on the most recent crop of LSAT information. At the Legal Whiteboard, Jerry Organ dives into the data and found that average scores are declining:

Across the 195 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii fully-accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as of 2010 (thus excluding Belmont, LaVerne, California-Irvine, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth) the entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell one point at all three measures between 2012 and 2013, from 159.6/157/153.5 to 158.6/156/152.5.  The entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell roughly two points at all three measures between 2010 and 2013, from 160.5/158.1/155.2 to 158.6/156/152.5.

The average decline in median LSAT scores between 2012 and 2013 across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was .98 among top 50 schools, 1.18 among schools ranked 51-99, .72 among schools ranked 100-144, and 1.13 among schools ranked alphabetically.

Which made me want to revisit a post on Associate’s Mind from last year, Top University Students Avoiding Law School, to see if that trend was holding true in light of the above data. The results? See for yourself….

The decline continues to be precipitous. In particular, note the column highlighted in yellow, the decline rate from 2012 to 2013. Doesn’t look good. A couple notes:

  • Cornell has the smallest percentage decline from 2012 to 2013, but have the highest downward trend overall. That might indicate that we’re approaching the bottom of the dive at Cornell. Maybe 40% decline in applicants in the magic number?
  • Stanford had the biggest drop from 2012 to 2013. If this trend continues, Stanford is going to be sending less than 100 students to law schools per year within a couple years. Yikes.
What does this mean? It looks as though many of the “best and brightest” who would have once considered going to law school are now avoiding it like the plague (and given the overall slumping legal industry, it’s a wonder if they will ever return). That means that schools are going to be competing for a shrinking applicant pool and that some applicants who would have never been considered at some schools will now be let in.

In addition to exploring the decline in applicants from top law schools, I also looked at which schools had the highest applicant increases. Are these schools still sending more and more students to law schools?

No. Last year these schools sent a large number of students to law school, indicating an upward trend. But from 2012 to 2013, all but three of the schools saw applicants to law schools decline (see highlighted column). Meaning that even at schools where people had been optimistic about the prospects of becoming a lawyer are now souring on the idea.

Small Firm Competition

So if you’re solo or in a small firm, how will these trends affect you? As is known by anyone even barely paying attention to the legal industry, things are rough. There is an oversupply of lawyers. In the short term, this means that small firms are able to pick up bright new lawyers from good schools at an affordable rate. New lawyers are having to take what they can get.

In the long term, if this trend continues, then the prospects of small firms attracting top talent will likely fade. With a smaller and smaller pool of available new lawyers, there will be fierce competition among larger firms to attract the small number of high performers. Big firms might even have to lower their standards just to fill available positions. This means that the available talent pool to small firms will be pushed down the spectrum.

As an overarching trend, a shrinking number of people attending law school is also likely good for small firms. Less lawyers = less competition. It will likely take a few more years to shake out, but in the end it should be a good thing for the solos and small firms that have the tenacity and grit to make it through these turbulent next few years.

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