Following on last month’s news of a precipitous drop in the number of Law School Admissions Tests (LSATs) administered in the 2011-2012 academic year, the LSAT Blog and The Atlantic are reporting this week that law school applications are down significantly as well.
Citing preliminary numbers from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), the LSAT Blog runs the numbers on the drop in law school applications for the class of 2015:
Applicant numbers are down 15.6%, and applications submitted are down 13.6%, according to data submitted through 3/30/12 … LSAC states, “Last year at this time, we had 91% of the preliminary final applicant count.”
Given the challenges facing new law school graduates, it is unsurprising that some potential lawyers may be reconsidering whether a legal education is the right path. Unless employment prospects improve (and recent BLS projections indicate that they might not, as legal employers replace some attorneys with lower-cost workers), law schools may see a permanent decline in applications rates. But is that a bad thing?
The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman thinks it might be, if the individuals skipping out on law school are people who are “smart and hard working enough” to obtain a high LSAT score. Weissman hones in on the following chart from the new LSAC data, showing the decline in law school applications among high-scoring LSAT takers:
Pointing specifically to 20% decline in applicants with an LSAT score in the 170-174 range, Weissman argues that “The number of students applying who probably should apply to law school has dropped the most.”
Law schools and law firms, both of which seek to recruit the strongest candidates with the greatest likelihood of success, would probably agree. Correlation studies conducted by the LSAC show that LSAT scores, coupled with undergraduate grade point averages, are a useful predictor of grades in the first year of law school. Law schools thus use the LSAT to screen applicants, and law firms later use first year grades to do the same thing. If high-scoring individuals choose not to attend law school or pursue legal careers, schools and firms will both have to recruit from weaker applicant pools.
As Weissman acknowledges, the equation looks different from the other side. A college senior with a 172 LSAT score could gain admission to a competitive law school, and is statistically likely to do well in that first year. But should he go? Law school tuition continues to rise, while job opportunities for new lawyers do not. Given his test score, our hypothetical student has better than average analytical and logical reasoning skills that he might use to determine that he would be better off without a J.D. The real question is whether the legal industry is worse off without him.
Posted by Emily Fisher