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December 31, 2013


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What about schools that choose the 155 median route in order to "re-inflate" class size. Such as.....

Class of 2016 Profile (as of Dec. 3, 2013)
Class Size: 143
Median LSAT: 155

A 155 Median is a considerable drop from 159 only two years earlier.

Should the ABA be concerned about schools that are deliberately sacrificing student quality in order to maintain class size?

Cassandra Burke Robertson

The future is here. There are already a few schools with a sub-145 median:

But does the ABA have the authority to "proactively regulate" schools based on a low LSAT median? My guess is that the ABA will have to wait and see how bar results look. Even then, it's not clear that there will necessarily be a low bar pass rate--many of the low-LSAT schools also have well developed bar prep programs. In addition, it's my understanding that some schools have been aggressively counseling students not to take the bar exam if it looks like they have a low chance of passing.

I think the bigger problem these schools face is that there is a limited pool of sub-145 LSAT candidates. Of the people who take the LSAT, only 22% score 144 or lower. (See Such a school is therefore filling at least half of its class with students in the bottom quarter of LSAT takers. Furthermore, many of these low scorers probably retake the LSAT rather than applying with the sub-145 score. (Query: what percentage of test takers score sub-145 on each of the allowed test administrations? Schools are now able to accept the highest score.)

So even if a law school is willing to switch to an open-enrollment model, the pool of prospective students is not large enough to sustain the current number of seats available. I don't know if schools will close, but they will certainly continue to shrink unless or until the number of LSAT takers goes up. Even the schools at the bottom of the hierarchy will not be able to grow in the aggregate.


The idea that schools might expand despite a declining applicant pool, I hope proves fanciful because doing so would be highly problematic. I understand that schools have a hard time operating with the smaller student bodies but is there any other business that when demand wanes they expand? Particularly a business that is not the leader in its field? How could a school possibly justify doing so other than to generate revenue irrespective of whether they are providing any educational benefit. It also seems incredibly short-sighted, money would come in for a couple of years but then the bottom is likely to fall out when students fail to get jobs and rankings decline. It would be different if the law schools felt that the LSAT/GPA restraints that arise from USNWR are limiting the pool of well qualified students they can attract (i.e., schools know there are lots of students out there with low GPAS and LSATs who would make excellent lawyers and law students if only given a chance) but I suspect this is not a school's motivation for getting bigger. Schools need to rightsize, which will cause some pain but almost every school can do so by (1) reducing administrative costs, which will require some layoffs in most instances and (2) inducing senior or higher-paid faculty to retire or go part-time. That strikes me as the right thing to do but some law schools, for whatever reason, seem to prefer what they perceive as an easier route.

Orin Kerr

MLS, isn't the ultimate choice between larger-but-fewer schools and smaller-but-more schools? If a school up the USNWR ranking shrinks, that allows a school down the USNWR rankings to enroll more students; if a school down the USNWR expands, there are fewer students for the school down the rankings and it will be harder for them to stay in business. Either way, I would think the number of enrolled students is the same.

(As an aside, I don't think the business analogy works, as there aren't many industries where every business turns away customers who are willing to pay.)


Good point Orin. There are also not many businesses where the government will supply unlimited amounts of money to their customers to purchase their product, no matter how worthless it is.


I am not sure I understand your point Orin. After all, the whole idea behind the need to downsize is that both the quantity and the quality of applicants are declining, thus the number of students is not fixed. It is true that in a static world when a top tier school decreases its size, lower ranked schools may be able to pick up the students who otherwise would have gotten into a better school. But that trickle down, or up, can't work when applications decline, there are simply fewer qualified applicants to go around. If schools close, there might be some students for other schools to pick up, but presumably the schools that close will be towards the bottom of the pyramid, and there will likely be only a small number of qualified students available from the shuttered school. You also seem to treat students as fungible -- so long as a school can fill seats, it should, but that flies in the face of admissions practices, not just for law schools but all academic institutions where the quality of applicants matters, at least to any school that is able to be selective. It may be that ultimately we will have fewer but larger schools, though that kind of realignment would require substantial time I would think, and at some point schools will have to think about what it is they are providing, which is where I think the business model comes in. And I hope schools do not come to think of themselves as just places that generate revenue by filling seats.

Orin Kerr

MLS, the quality of students at any school always fluctuates year-to-year together with application numbers. A decade ago, it was common for admissions deans to report that the quality of the incoming 1L class was the best it had ever been. The schools changed their standards as application numbers increased, and they turned away students that would have been admitted in previous years. But they didn't increase their class sizes: Class sizes remain fixed, as schools instead increased their standards and their selectivity. Now thee number of applicants is dropping, so the schools are changing their standards again -- this time downwards, back to where standards were before. Because admissions standards are always changing, the the fight for attracting students approximates a zero-sum game. Larger enrollments at higher-ranked law schools will force lower-ranked schools to close more quickly or in greater numbers.

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