It may well be that there are too many law schools in the country. Clearly, the number of law school graduates in recent years has exceeded the number of jobs for new lawyers. But it is equally clear that few law schools are likely to close down voluntarily. No university administration wants to shutter an institution that employs dozens of professionals and staff, has a loyal alumni base and has a profitable history. Rather, law schools will seek to endure the cyclical drop in applications through some combination of lower admission standards, reduction of class size, shrinkage of faculty and the institution of other cost-cutting measures until the legal job market improves and applications rebound.
The weakness of the legal employment market and the skyrocketing cost of legal education has led to an historic decline in law school applications. This reduction of the applicant pool has put the greatest pressure on what I will call “opportunity” schools – law schools which, by virtue of their mission or the market niche they occupy, traditionally admit a substantial number of at-risk students. For the purposes of this essay, I am defining at-risk students as those at the 40th percentile (149) or lower on the LSAT, although students slightly above that are still at some risk of failure (See the chart in my previous post.) With law schools above them in the pecking order admitting students who, in more prosperous times, might have had no choice but to attend an opportunity school, these schools may be forced to admit an even higher percentage of marginal applicants in order to stay in business. Of course, schools can go too far in lowering admission standards (see my discussion of InfiLaw’s recent admission practices in my previous post), but I believe it is possible for a law school to admit a substantial number of at-risk students without running afoul of ABA standards or ethical business practices.
Whatever one’s view on the appropriateness of admitting at-risk students, I think we should all be able to agree that a law school, having admitted such students, owes them a duty to provide the greatest possible chance of success in realizing the