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April 23, 2015


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It would be interesting to know if the average quality of law school applicants is continuing to decline.

John Jacob

Observer, it is.

Can't wait to see what 2016 1L attrition and 2018 bar passage rates look like.

Derek Tokaz


What's the evidence that we're reaching some stability? There's a pretty significant difference between a continued slow decline and stability. This is especially the case if each lost applicant is of increasing marginal value.

Also, is there any sort of survey about teaching loads? Or is that based on your own observations and anecdotal evidence?

Al Brophy


As to the number of applicants going forward, the decline in applicants has dropped dramatically. Last year it was about 8%; this year it looks like it's going to be under 3%. This is consistent with the February LSAT (though I'm reluctant to read too much into that). Maybe there will be a small decline next year -- wouldn't surprise me. But the data look like we're past the big declines of the past.

The teaching loads is based on conversations I've had with colleagues at a number of institutions over the past several years. I'd like to see comprehensive data on this.


It does appear that the number of applicants (and presumably matriculants) is bottoming out. Even if this is so, how much discounting have admissions offices had to make in order to remain competitive? Tuition revenues may not yet be leveling off.


It appears the decline is slowing - that does not mean bottoming out, just that it is slowing. It may continue at 2-3%, it may increase again, or it may stop. I think law school enrollment is a few years from hitting equilibrium with market demand and typically declines like this need to fall below equilibrium before a recovery starts.

Derek Tokaz


Perhaps we're using a different definition of "stability."

I'd only call it stable if the schools would be okay with more of the same. I don't think many schools would do well with another 10 years of 2.6% declines.

Al Brophy

I don't think so, Derek. I think our difference relates to whether the declines in the neighborhood of 2-3% will continue (as you suggest they might for 10 years). I'm guessing we're at about the bottom of the declines; maybe I'm wrong. We may see some more decline, but I would be surprised to see dramatic declines of the kind we're been saw with the entering classes from 2011 to 2014. Time will tell.

Derek Tokaz


So then my question is this: what makes it seem like we're at the bottom? Is it just a guess, or is there something else to it?

Some things slow until they stop, and then reverse direction. Other things slow, then stop slowing, and continue on. Is there any reason to think the decline in law school applicants is one sort of thing instead of the other?


It's fool's gold. Take s&m's data. Assume an after-tax lifetime median income boost of $700,000. To get it you have to pay 150,000 in tuition, and finance it. Crunch the numbers and over a career the median lawyer is up maybe $150,000 over just a bachelors. What's that like an extra 5 to 10 grand a year for the median lawyer. Big deal! And that comes with a lot of risk to get that extra 10k.


Thank you, JoJo. I'll readily admit that I'm no PhD economist, but when I read S&M I reach the exact same back-of-the-envelope conclusion. I just don't see how the cost/benefit analysis works out with my 2005 tuition sticker prices (spoiler alert: it doesn't, trust me, I shoulda stayed home) let alone for 2015. Similar to middle-class tax rates, I am "squeezed" by the fact that I am not eligible for IBR, PAYE, etc.

Like anything else in life, if you have backing (read free tuition and/or wealthy, connected family) then perhaps law school makes great sense. How many people realistically have that? Not at the cost and rate law schools are pumping out graduates, that is for certain.


John Jacob:

"Can't wait to see what 2016 1L attrition and 2018 bar passage rates look like."

I think that it's worse than the LSAT 25/50/75s imply, for two reasons:

1) At a number of schools we've seen that range drop like a rock, until the 75th percentile is below the 25th percentile from a few years ago. This strongly suggests that the lower tail below the 25th percentile goes *all* the way down. Not just students who probably won't pass the bar, but students who have less chance than a Kennedy :)

2) In casual browsing at LST, I've noticed a repeated pattern, almost the standard, that the GPA's drop from 2010 to 2011, then plateau or increase a bit. Combined with constantly declining LSAT percentiles, this suggests to me that those schools are drawing from worse and worse undergrad feeder schools.

Having worked my way up from a third tier school to a first tier school, this means that a lot of students will be unprepared for rigorous programs.

Now, the schools can flunk them in unprecedented numbers, keeping their bar passage rates up, but losing their 2L and 3L tuition, or pass them, and watch their bar passage rates plummet.

We've seen schools do just that, and b*tch about the bar. If I were running groups giving bar exams, I'd be preparing for massive opposition, which were are seeing start up now.


Al, the future decline is of great importance, since as pointed out, a continuing 2-3% decline in numbers means a continuing 2-3% yearly drop in gross revenue, *before* factoring in massive drops in per-unit price (i.e., tuition).

Many schools are bottomed out in bar-passage capable students, and the middle tier will gladly take their better students. Therefore the bottom-tier[1] schools will continue to be under *massive* and *increasing* pressure.

[1] Meaning bottom 100.

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