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December 15, 2014


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You're seeing the problem. Now, how about getting on the reform bandwagon? This profession is glutted, the schools are doing a disservice to marginal and vulnerable applicants, and in the end Uncle Sam will get stuck with the bill.

This could be a very strong, very cordial profession (although no where near as remunerative as it was two generations ago) by implementing some discipline at the law school level. Alternatively, it can continue to devolve into Lord of the Flies and be the worst economic decision that somewhere around half of all matriculants ever make.

Brian Tamanaha

Seventeen law schools reported LSAT scores below 150 at all three quartile points (75%, 50%, and 25%). (Five years ago only 3 law schools reported all three points below 150.) A 149 LSAT score converts to the 41st percentile among test-takers. Of these seventeen law school, 10 also reported median GPAs below 3.00. At eleven of these 17 law schools the bottom quartile point was 142 (19%) or lower, the lowest at 139 (12%) and 138 (10.6%).

Twenty-one additional law schools reported median LSAT scores below 150.

On top of that, a bunch more law schools reported first quartile LSAT scores below 150.

You characterize the overall results at many law schools as a "slight decline in admissions predictors." Perhaps so. But these numbers paint a picture of serious deterioration of student quality across dozens of law schools. Thousands of law students admitted this year were in the bottom half of LSAT test takers nationwide, and many many were in the bottom quarter. This is happening in unprecedented numbers.


"Many many were in the bottom quarter [of LSAT takers] ..."

Stunning. This is a textbook example of how to destroy the reputation of legal academia even more than it has already been damaged, for how can a law school produce bar-ready, practice-ready and competent employed attorneys from students who have failed to achieve even better than the BOTTOM QUARTILE???

Answer: don't even try. A Ph.D. in meditation and mindfulness, or philosophy, or archeology, or whatever, teaching the "new law" in the "new law school," a person who never much liked the law or lawyers, surveys the situation and says: "So what? Practitioners don't think as hard as I do."

Just saying...

I recently met some people from a second tier law school. The school is in the NY area and has bounced around the rankings and bar pass rate standings like many other non-elite NY schools.

They mentioned that faculty at this struggling school were angry that they were asked to take a 5% pay cut this year. Non-faculty have not had raises since god knows when.

It should be abundantly clear by now that faculty care only about themselves.

So here is my question: Who is going to take the lead and start fixing this mess? I was once proud to be an attorney. I am now ashamed of the profession and how it is destroying itself.

Is every one: Profs, deans, law school admins and practitioners so self-centered that they can't look beyond their paycheck and do something?

I would really like to hear from people here as to whom they think should take the lead.

Forget the ABA, apparently.


Legal academia blames practitioners: reading the comments here, we see that law profs strongly believe that practitioners don't know or ever think about legal theory, that they are selfish and greedy, etc.

It seems to this reader, the legal academy has divorced itself from practice. This is evident in so many ways: hiring, curriculum, attitude, participation, etc. The academy increasingly sees itself as some sort of mini university: housing academicians whose focus is philosophy, history, economics, social science, etc. (hence the move to hiring more Ph.D.s, few of whom are experienced attorneys and most of whom have little more than disdain for law practice and practitioners).

If the legal academy - charged with educating lawyers to be - disclaims its responsibility to train lawyers to be (and instead insults and demeans and ignores their chosen profession) then circumstances in legal academia will continue to worsen.

Positive steps might include moving toward hiring experienced practitioners to begin to swing the pendulum back a bit toward the traditional and mandatory role of law schools and legal scholarship: to train lawyers to be and improve the legal systems that serve the public at large.

Otherwise, as the public loses more and more faith in the institutions of legal education (this is without doubt the case) the "fixes" that naïve and anti-practice hoarders adopt will just dig the hole deeper.

Very few wish to attend law school for any reason other than to become a practicing attorney. The top of the pile law schools are feeding on the seed corn, and resting on their reputations - but, even at those levels, things are beginning to wither.

Until the law academy understands its core mission, it will continue to earn failing grades, top to bottom, as it has done in recent years, as students stay away in droves.


Brian: "You characterize the overall results at many law schools as a "slight decline in admissions predictors." Perhaps so. But these numbers paint a picture of serious deterioration of student quality across dozens of law schools. Thousands of law students admitted this year were in the bottom half of LSAT test takers nationwide, and many many were in the bottom quarter. This is happening in unprecedented numbers."

From what's being said on other blogs:

1) These schools are admitting a significant amount of students who are unlikely to pass their classes (which I believe violates ABA requirements).

2) These schools are admitting a significant amount of students who are unlikely to ever pass the state bar exam.

I'd add that in five years, whatever local reputation these schools have will smell worse than a week-dead skunk in July.

Nathan A

I had no idea that the Factory of Sadness (American) loses a fifth of its class to transfers each year. They might want to consider not being so stingy with scholarship money (less than 5% received scholarships of half-tuition or higher).


Now that U.S. News has access to the transfer data, I imagine it will do something to counter law schools that engage in these transfer tactics to game the numbers. My goodness, GW keeps its LSAT/GPA scores high with a smaller entering class knowing that it plans to turn into a crazed poacher!

Former Editor

Just saying . . .,

Who should take the lead? The only two groups that I can think of that might be able to have an effect (outside of Congress changing the funding situation) are the judiciary and university-wide administrators.

State judiciaries could bestir themselves and begin making their bar admission credentials require things of the law schools beyond ABA accreditation. Such rules can lead to immediate reform (e.g., New York's relatively new student Pro Bono requirement). A rule they might implement to lower class sizes and limit the abilities of schools going to open admission might be something like: if a school's graduates do not pass the bar at a more than 65% rate or find FT/LT legal employment at more than a 50% rate for x number of years out of y number of years, the school's graduates three years down the road will not be permitted to sit for the bar exam. In places like New York, Florida, and Illinois, I suspect that such a rule would lead to the desired class shrinkage either by schools getting smaller to stay out of danger or by schools losing the right to have their graduates sit for the bar and consequently shuttering (since their applicants pretty much all intend regional practice and will not go to a school that won't let them sit for the bar).

Barnhizer and others have blogged a few times now about how university administrators may shutter some of their law schools as revenues from the school decline and the university's overall reputation begins to tarnish because of its law school. I think those folks are right on that score, but administrators also have the potential to affect smaller change. It seems possible, if not very politic, for a university that is committed to keeping its law school open and selective to simply fund x number of seats in the short term (at a loss very probably) and simultaneously impose minimum admissions requirements.

I doubt meaningful reforms will or even realistically can come from other quarters. The ABA section on legal education gives all indications of being captured, so forget them indeed. New faculty members, the handful of them that have even been hired in the past few years, cannot be catalysts for change in their home institutions without placing themselves in very real peril of retaliation. Don't count on them. And, much as we bloggers/commenters/trolls might wish otherwise, no one else is in a position to affect change.

Just saying...

Former Editor: I doubt many universities will shutter their law schools, just think of the bad press that would generate. I also think they would be under severe pressure from law school alums not to do so.

What I do think is happening is that more universities are pulling or greatly reducing financial support for their law schools, telling the schools to manage on their own. Hence, the increase in transfers, salary cuts, etc.

Recently, I heard the President of a university with a low-ranked law school (not the one I mentioned above) publicly voice support for the struggling law school and said closing it was not on the table.

To me, this school would be a great candidate for closure given its low standing, old and unimpressive faculty and the poor outcomes most students face. No university administrator or BOT wants to be the first to pull that trigger.

Former Editor

Just Saying...,

Personally, I would not read too much into a current university administrator publicly expressing support and saying closure is not on the table. What is that administrator going to say? Any admission that closure actually is on the table will scare off applicants in droves.

You are certainly right that no university wants to be the first to close a law school. I wonder, though, if Jerry Organ's comparison to dental schools isn't particularly apt. It may be that a more reputable school will be the first to close as those schools have the most to lose in terms of the overall university reputation. While there may be alumni pushing to keep a particular law school open, other alumni (perhaps of other parts of the university) may be pushing for just the opposite.

Lower ranked universities have less to lose in the reputation sense, but are also generally less well-heeled and able to stomach a school that's losing money year over year. Those schools seem more likely to me to close up law schools that aren't self-supporting, but only after someone else "breaks the ice" or the finances get so bad they can't justify keeping it open anymore.

Just saying...

Former Editor: I wonder if dental schools were the "jewels in the crown" of their universities when they were closed; many law schools, esp. at non-elite universities, hold that position. Also, unlike the ABA and legal professsion, the ADA and the dental profession may have been a catalyst in those closures.

We can also compare law schools to schools of education, which, traditionally, were also cash cows for their parent institutions, given high enrollments and relatively low cost to operate.

There are more than 100 schools of ed. in NYS alone!! The market for teachers here has dropped significantly and demographics do not indicate that the number of K-12 students will increase in the years to come in the state -- quite the opposite. esp. in suburbs. Many districts and private schools are laying off teachers, yet I have not heard of one university closing its ed. school.

A university with both a law and ed. school would likely have an easier time of closing the ed. school, P.R. and prestige-wise, so until I see some do that, I would not expect any law school closures.


Former Editor,

I think that reform may come from within. Many law faculty (perhaps most) are like card dealers in the mob casino. They are part of a bad system, and an integral part, but when things get really bad I would not count on them all to stick together. More than a few have a conscience, and it may be enough to make them want to rock the boat -- albeit slightly.

There also are quite a few faculty members who believe their own b.s. in a good way. A lot are idealistic do gooders, and I can't imagine an idealistic do gooder would sit quietly by when they realize what's happened around them. To use a movie analogy, when Alec Guinness (Obi Wan) recognizes at the last moment that his dogged pursuit of a British engineered built bridge across the River Kwai might not have been the best thing for King and Country and that perhaps he could best serve Britain by trying to win the war instead. In short order, I suspect that a few profs will realize that they may be doing more harm than good in their relentless commitment to the law school status quo, and embrace change to help a profession and struggling young people.

Plus, there's always Congress to cut funding. That's the nuclear option, and we're mightly close.

Former Editor


I hope you are right. I certainly know plenty of well-meaning law professors who recognize that there is a systemic issue but seem completely oblivious of the fact that their own institutions are contributors to the problem. Any suggestions on how to get those faculty members to have a "What have I done?" moment such that they are now willing to fall on the detonator?


Posted by: Just saying... "To me, this school would be a great candidate for closure given its low standing, old and unimpressive faculty and the poor outcomes most students face. No university administrator or BOT wants to be the first to pull that trigger."

True. I do expect that after one or two or three, there'll be a surge of closing.


Jojo-What planet are you from?


I think JoJo is right on point.

As profs seek alternatives, and perhaps find them, they will be increasingly likely to bring about changes that may bring the current complacency to an end.


BLS data now indicate there will be a shortage of lawyers in 2017....yet the critics want law schools to shut down.

How is that responsive to the need for legally trained professionals in a complex law driven society?

It sounds more like people "talking their book" as they say on Wall Street - trying to get people to short the market so the value of their position increases.


Yes ... keep pumping up the numbers by admitting more and more applicants who are less and less qualified, based on the canard that there will magically appear a shortage of lawyers in 2017.

Those "talking their book" predicted the market for law graduates would have rebounded by now. In 2017, they will confidently predict that just three more years are needed to absorb the overhang.

And, then three more. And then, three more.

Sorry, there is no excuse for throwing out standards and moving to open admissions to support what has become and what now can only be characterized as a corrupt administration of legal academia in the US.


Anon, first of all, there is no evidence of that other than projections. Second, there is a large backlog of JD's who passed the bar and yet can't find jobs requiring said bar passage and license. Third, even if there is a "shortage of lawyers," how many of the jobs will pay enough for a grad to tend to their loans?

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