Admissions

Jim Chen

Law students should take merit stipulations into account when they decide whether to accept an offer of admission paired with a conditional grant of financial aid. By all accounts, they do not. Law schools should transparently disclose the likely effect of merit stipulations on their financial aid awards. By all accounts, law schools do no such thing.

Jim Chen, former dean at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law, opining on the merit scholarship racket in a new working paper.

(If you recall, Chen’s school recently over-promised financial aid to incoming students, which will result in a $2.4 million shortfall over three years.)

It seems like we’ve written about the general decline in LSAT administrations and law school applications ad nauseum. At this point, people know (or at least, they should know) that there is a problem with the legal education system in this country.

But according to U.S. News, that’s not stopping would-be law students from applying in substantial numbers. The leader in law school rankings recently compiled a list of the ten schools that received the most applications for full-time programs in 2011. At almost 75,000, the sheer number of applications remains astounding.

When looking at this list, we noticed a trend: all of the law schools are in the traditional first tier, and most of them are in major cities. But not everyone can get into these schools, and given the reported drop in admissions at Cooley, curiosity got the best of us.

So we created a top-ten list of the unranked schools that received the most applications last year — the cream of the crap, if you will. Is your school on either one of these lists?

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Cooley is getting some competition for low-hanging fruit.

Some law schools are voluntarily cutting back on the number of students they admit as they try to be more focused on getting jobs for the kids they do admit. Other schools aren’t making the cuts voluntarily, but want everybody to think that smaller class sizes are a choice and not a reality of fewer law school applicants.

And then there’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School. They’re looking at a precipitous drop in their number of applications and admitted students, but they can’t pretend like they’ve voluntarily decided to stop admitting so many students. Instead, Cooley’s dean acknowledged that other schools are accepting less qualified applicants, which has caused downward pressure on Cooley’s numbers.

Hey, that’s a better story for Cooley than the alternative: that prospective law students have gotten wise to Cooley’s game and are staying away….

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So, on Monday night I was watching the Men’s 400 meter race and women’s uneven bars, playing Star Wars because Madden hadn’t dropped yet, and drinking. Near the end of the evening, I stopped by Facebook (supposedly on my way to read reviews of more goddamn pediatricians), and I had a new message.

It was a friend of mine who has another friend who is thinking of going to law school. Knowing my stance on such things, my friend asked me to pretend like the decision to go to law school was inevitable and focus on a different question: what can college seniors do to increase the chances of getting into a good law school in case their LSAT scores are low?

I’ve got an answer. And really, the sober answer isn’t all that different than the one I had hammered out at 2:00 a.m….

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I’m still trying to figure out the appropriate way to “take credit” for the decline in the number of people taking the LSAT. Currently, I’m consulting with a red-haired chick on the procedure for calling me Lightbringer.

But my work is clearly not done. The big news today is that the new numbers released by LSAC show that the decline in LSAT takers disproportionately affects top performers on the LSAT. Basically, fewer high scorers are taking the LSAT, while the number of people who can’t even break 145 remains strong.

Doesn’t that really match our anecdotal beliefs that people applying to law school in 2012, with all the data and the publicity about the bad deal you get at an American law school, are just dumber than those who came before?

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Last Wednesday, we reported on Baylor Law School’s inadvertent release of personal academic information for its entire admitted class — names, addresses, GPAs, LSAT scores, and scholarship offers. Last Friday, my colleague Elie Mystal used this data to argue in defense of affirmative action.

We believe in offering a wide range of perspectives here at Above the Law. That’s one thing that’s nice about having four full-time writer/editors — myself, Elie, Staci Zaretsky, Chris Danzig — and about a dozen outside columnists.

Today we bring you a different viewpoint on the Baylor law admissions data. Prominent lawyer and blogger Ted Frank, previously profiled in these pages for his work in the class-action area, uses the same data to argue against affirmative action.

Let’s hear what he has to say, shall we?

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Hot on the heels of the news that administrations of the LSAT are down 16% from last year, we now know that the number of students applying to law school has also declined. But just how bad are the numbers? Let’s just say that applicants and applications for this cycle have “dropped precipitously.”

It would seem that people have finally gotten the message that going to law school won’t necessarily guarantee financial success, much less a job as a lawyer. These days, prospective law students are more in tune with reality, and they obviously don’t like the pictures of law school doom and gloom that have been displayed prominently in the mainstream media.

But that doesn’t mean that people are going to stop applying to law school, or even that they should. So, for these prospective law students, does news of fewer applicants mean that tuition prices will drop, too?

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Dear University of Chicago Law School Admissions Committee:

I write to advise you that you can remove my name from the waitlist for admission to the University of Chicago Law School.

I deduce that my application has posed an extraordinarily challenging decision for you. After all, I applied for admission in the fall of 1978, was placed on the wait list some time that winter, and am still awaiting your final decision. I certainly appreciate the effort that you have invested in considering my application during the intervening decades.

As you might imagine, this has not been an easy thirty years for me, either. Every day, through the changing seasons and changing seasons of my life, I have approached the mailbox with trepidation, thinking that I might finally experience the exhilaration of acceptance or the agony of rejection. But it was not to be; I never heard a word. I’ve decided it’s time to spare you the effort of further deliberation.

I’ve thought about you each fall and winter, as you’ve surely re-opened and dusted off my typewritten application and compared it to the new e-submissions that you probably receive today. How do my accomplishments from the late 1970s compare to the accomplishments of my current competitors? I’m certain, for example, that grade inflation has worked to my detriment, as my grades are stuck at the old levels and younger folks get higher grades with each passing year. It’s just not fair.

And what about external events?

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On Wednesday, we reported on Baylor Law School accidentally releasing personal academic information for its entire admitted class. It was a massive screw-up, and on Wednesday, we showed you the GPA and LSAT scores for Baylor’s admitted students (with the students’ names redacted, of course).

But there were other fields available in the accidentally released spreadsheet, including racial categorizations for each student and scholarship information. I didn’t include the race field earlier this week because, frankly, I didn’t want the entire news story (of the screw-up) to be overrun by a discussion about race and affirmative action.

But, look, I ain’t afraid of you people. Getting a complete racial breakdown of the class to go along with their grades and LSAT scores is a look inside the law school admissions process that we don’t often get to see.

So, let’s play our game. Looking at the Baylor numbers, you can see the affirmative action “bump” in LSAT scores, and to my eyes, it really shows how foolish the opponents of affirmative action really are….

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There are data breaches, and then there are data dummies. The people at Baylor Law seem to be in the latter category.

Nobody was trying to steal the personal information of the admitted students at Baylor Law. But a screw-up by someone at the school resulted in all of the personal information of the admitted class getting transmitted to everybody else in the admitted class.

All of it. Names, addresses, grades, and LSAT scores. Pretty much everything besides social security numbers.

And, we have it….

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