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January 13, 2013

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BoredJD

Here’s a helpful graph of last cycle’s changes in class size mapped by increase/decrease in LSAT score. http://i.imgur.com/j0kWE.png

Schools could respond to the continued decrease in applicants in a few ways. They could continue to cut class size in order to maintain or control the decrease in their USNWR medians, thereby holding their ranking steady. Or, they could maintain or increase class size in order to hold revenues steady and let their rankings drop. Last year, most schools chose the former option.

I suspect that there are some schools that will choose to maintain revenues. Like American did last year, they will increase class size and let LSAT medians drop. Given the recent Globe story it may seem unfair to pile on NESL, but with a close to 80% acceptance rate it and other schools like it (large, standalone, expensive private schools in oversaturated markets which scambloggers call “diploma mills”) will effectively have an open admissions policy this year. If a school is unconcerned about USNWR, the only external control on its size is ABA Standard 301 (http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/legaled/standards/20072008StandardsWebContent/Chapter_3.authcheckdam.pdf). Without accreditation, a school’s graduates cannot sit for most state bar exams and are not eligible for federal loan monies. I could see one or two schools that have failed to meet the accreditation standards for the past two years losing accreditation next year if they fail to get their bar passage rate up. However, there are several tricks schools can use to lower the number of matriculants taking the bar and increase their bar passage rate, and ultimately a failure to meet accreditation may be excused by the Section on Legal Education. Therefore, it will be some years before a mill is threatened with closure or fundamental change for the faculty on the basis of poor bar passage.

The schools that will be most affected are schools that are attempting to maintain both their USNWR ranking and their level of services/quality. These are probably higher ranking (Tier 1) private and public schools that see themselves as “national” law schools although their employment statistics may not support this view. This is exacerbated by the disproportionate drop in higher scoring applicants and the willingness of students to negotiate for scholarships.

This year, schools will face a very stark choice between letting rankings drop or cutting services. Ultimately, it will show more definitively how each particular school views its place in the law school system and its overall mission.

However, we won’t see fundamental cost-cutting or layoffs of tenure-track faculty. Such a move might draw in some price-conscious applicants but would most certainly tank a school’s reputation among academics, which is fully .25 of the USNWR ranking.

Finally, I do not think 2013-14 is the year we see a law school closing. If the drop in applicants continues or levels off in 2014-15, however, we will undoubtedly see one.

john

Very interesting graph, kudos to whoever took the time to put it together.

A few intersting points:

1. The faculty at Baltimore, New England and Golden Gate should be taken out and shot. In an absolutely horrible market like this, they have chosen to lower standards in order to increase enrollment by what looks to be about 15-22%.

2. Case Western, despite all of the heat it has been taking for the ridiculous antics of its Dean, actually seems to be on the high road. They reduced class size by almost twenty percent, and increased median LSAT by two percent in the process.

3. Based on a cursory glance, it seems that almost all of the schools that decided to increase enrollment are in the bottom half of the rankings.

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