LSATs

In this age of plummeting law school applications, many deans must make difficult choices. They must sacrifice one of two things they love dearly: tuition dollars or their U.S. News ranking. It’s the legal academy’s version of Sophie’s Choice.

As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.

So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.

(Yes, we recently covered one exception. But to paraphrase Chinatown, “Forget it, Jake — it’s Cooley.”)

Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….

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In case you haven’t been following the news, legal education in this country is in a state of crisis. Class sizes are shrinking, law school faculty and staff are getting laid off, and long-term, full-time jobs for graduating students that require bar passage are still sparse.

As of January, law school applications were down 38 percent from where they were three years ago in 2010. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) stated that the number of total applicants would likely drop below 60,000 for the first time since 1983, when the organization started keeping such records. Many prospective students finally seem to have gotten the message: now is not an ideal time to go to law school.

Now that LSAC has released its preliminary final applicant and applications count, we know just how bad the situation has become. When will the madness end?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Ann K. Levine debunks three popular law school admission myths.

1. The Earlier You Apply the Better

“I want to submit my applications September 1, so I am not going to take the October LSAT (even though I could get a better score).”

Yes, rolling admissions is a “thing” in the law school world. There is some advantage to applying earlier. However, it’s always better to wait and get an LSAT score that more accurately shows your aptitude than to be the first application in the door. There is no advantage to applying in September versus October or even November. The advantage comes in applying in December/early January as opposed to end of January/early February. However, the importance of rolling admissions as a whole has been diminished as the number of law school applicants overall has dropped significantly in the last few years.

2. Taking the LSAT a Third Time is Bad

“I don’t want to retake the LSAT because it would look bad for me to take it a third time.”

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

LSATs are lower than in previous years. There’s been an arms race with LSATs and GPAs [among top law schools], but I think the shrunken pool has forced admissions officers to think about what we really need in our class, and it’s not just the LSAT. I think we are choosing substance over LSATs.

Sarah Zearfoss, dean of admissions at the University of Michigan Law School, explaining to The Careerist that with fewer applications, Michigan is starting to consider substance (implying that she doesn’t think the LSAT is substantive).

Last week, we asked for your thoughts on what an improved, more relevant approach to law school rankings would look like. This request was of course prompted by U.S. News’s revisions to its rankings methodology, which now applies different weights to different employment outcomes, giving full credit only to full-time jobs where “bar passage is required or a J.D. gives them an advantage.” U.S. News is of course bowing to the realities of the horrific legal job market and the spreading realization that, for many if not most, pursuing a J.D. makes little economic sense.

Yet U.S. News’s revamped methodology feels like a half-measure at best, as employment outcomes make up less than 20% of the rankings formula. Compare this to the 40% of the score based on “quality assessment” surveys of practicing lawyers, judges, and law school faculty and administrators. Shouldn’t those numbers be reversed?

In any event, last week about 500 of you weighed in with your opinions on which criteria should matter and which should not when it comes to ranking law schools. The results are after the jump….

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