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January 08, 2015


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Law profs,

Please encourage the ABA to do something about this. Law can be a strong, competent and ethical profession where 20,000 to 25,000 graduates enter each year and can make a living, or a terrible one where 35,000 to 40,000 grads enter a saturated market and slug it out in a cutthroat battle to survive.


With all due respect, I think the article said 95 PERCENT of the 196 U.S. law schools . . . lowered their standards for students near the bottom of the pack.

David Frakt

Thanks, Lawman. I have corrected the post.


There is no point in reforming the ABA. It is better that the institution just be discredited entirely. The policing of law schools has to come from outside pressure. There is no sense in appealing to their sense of honor given that they have none.

The only worthwhile regulation in this profession comes from LSAC (via the LSAT) and state bar examiners. If these two institutions hold the line, then there is hope for the future of the legal profession. Undoubtedly law schools and the ABA will do everything they can to abolish these standards as they selfishly pursue more revenue.

The saving grace here is that there are only a small handful of entry level tenure track faculty hires this year, and this trend will likely continue. I'd expect an average of 20-30 new hires annually through the remainder of the decade. In the past a lot of students at top schools may have been in favor of having 200+ law schools because this potentially meant they could have their own cushy law school appointment, or a friend was getting such an appointment. Now, even the brightest HYS graduates should realize that an academic career is not an option. I think, as a result, they will arrive at the same conclusion that the majority of these schools should not exist, and the criticism will therefore come from the top of the profession rather than the bottom.


Good points, JM, though I do want to note that the Department of Education could easily reform things too.


100% right, twbb. Real student loan reform would be amazing. Just abolishing PAYE, PSLF and IBR would do a lot of damage to the existing structure. Can you imagine if law schools then had to purchase loans that are 3 months delinquent? The number of law schools would cut in half overnight.


This is an interesting post, and the discussion of who should or should realistically be expected to intervene is a bit digressive. But on the question of whether the ABA or the LSAC or state bar examiners should hold the line, bear in mind that there are legal limits. The Justice Department has intervened to prevent capture of accreditation by legal educators and continues to administer a consent decree; it might also regard as guild-like behavior any attempts by practicing lawyers to "close" law schools because of lack of employment opportunities, ruinous competition, etc. From its perspective, the legitimate basis for regulation involves the quality of the education programs and the information provided about them. If one were to stipulate that law schools (now) are more transparent about what they do and the job prospects on offer, and that the actual quality of education afforded any enrollees remains good, then one has to be prepared to make the case that there's a public menace to clients presented by lower-caliber graduates who do in fact pass the bar and can hold themselves out as lawyers . . . mere "oversupply" or poor job prospects won't cut it. What DOE or other true governmental actors may do is a different matter.

As to JM's points, they don't seem good to me. Perhaps graduates of HYS, deprived of opportunities to work as professors at lower-ranked schools, will lose their interest in advocating for their continuation, but this sounds better as an attack on the self-centered academic wannabe than it is as a diagnosis. The ideas that many envision themselves at such schools in the first place, or continue to be engaged in the question and at "the top of the profession" if denied that opportunity, or comprise a substantial fraction of the top lawyers who have a say in the matter, seem very unlikely. The top of the profession has long been largely (but not wholly) detached from the fate of bottom-ranked schools and their graduates, and there's not a big change in that. The difference may be that the magnitude of the problem confronting graduates of such schools is worsening, not that self-interest of the influential has changed.



I would bet a large percentage of Federal appellate clerks and T10 law review editors at least flirt with the idea of a career in academia. They would make that move, if at all, after 1-2 clerkship years and a year in private practice. That is the demographic I was referring to when I said "top of the profession." I think that after being shut out of the academic hiring market, they will be much more receptive to changes that precipitate the closure of law schools. Even if, by the time they are in a position of power, the sentiment has passed, in the present they will contribute (and give credibility) to the hostile environment that has already wreaked a great deal of havoc on many American law schools.

If you want to see a concrete example of this phenomenon, periodically check in on PrawfsBlawg in the next few months. In the Fall there were a lot of chipper young voices from top law graduates entering the market. They dispayed the type of respect and enthusiasum (i.e. kissing up) typical of young people that see themselves has having a legitimate chance of being invited to join an exclusive club. I wonder how those voices will change now that there are maybe 15 confirmed hires for next year.



As you point out, the consent decree was meant to stop requirements that maintained a monopoly that protected law faculty and administrator salaries and workloads but did little to maintain quality education; it also expired 8 years ago. I do think that you can take action over more things than transparency and quality of education, or at least "quality of education" can involve a whole lot of factors unrelated to what the teachers do. For example, someone who got a 140 on the LSAT is likely not going to be doing work that should receive a passing grade; you can come down on schools for passing them anyway, which I suspect a lot of the Infilaw-style schools are doing. They should do random audits of final exams/papers/etc. and see what kind of work is being produced (and given passing grades).

I also suspect the DOJ will have less success moving against state bars than it did against the ABA, if the former tried to limit the oversupply of poorly-prepared lawyers (though I can easily see the ABA or AALS bringing a lawsuit against NCBEX to get them to make the bar exam easier) since the state bars are more insulated against antitrust suits (not entirely, e.g. Goldfarb v. VA State Bar) than law schools.


Although the article refers only to Fall 2013 statistics -- the Fall 2014 statistics are available. William and Mary probably has the best example of dropping at the 25% LSAT -- dropping 4 points at the 25% LSAT (from 161 to 157) on one year while dropping their median only one LSAT point.


"...while dropping their median only one LSAT point."

That's the big thing here - it's likely that all schools in the bottom 100 (or more) no have a very long lower tail, reaching far further down than before.

John Charles Kunich

Prof. Frakt and I both have many years of experience as Air Force JAGs and as full-time law professors, and both of us have worked with a range of legal professionals that includes attorneys from non-elite law schools. I respect Dave and I admire his integrity. My comments here, and elsewhere, are in no way intended as a personal attack. My points focus on what I see as Prof. Frakt's well-intentioned overemphasis on the LSAT as the key predictor of merit for law school applicants.

The LSAC itself has long cautioned against using the LSAT a more than just one data point among others. There is great wisdom in this caveat. We know from decades of experience with the LSAT, SAT, ACT, various IQ tests, GRE, MCAT, and other multiple-choice, time-pressure, standardized tests that they exaggerate some characteristics in the test-takers while eliding or undervaluing others. They place much weight on some undeniably important abilities, such as swift reading with above-average comprehension, while failing to account for genuine learning differences and divergent skill sets.

Law school admissions committees need to have metrics that do more than identify candidates who will likely pass the first year of law school. That is necessary, but not sufficient. We need ways of assessing a person's prospects of weathering the entire law school experience, AND passing the bar exam, AND performing with professional standards of quality at least a reasonable subset of the myriad tasks lawyers actually do in the practice of law.

This is a formidable challenge for many reasons, including the fact that there are numerous niches and specialties within the legal profession, each with its own optimal/adequate skill sets and core capacities. The talents and abilities that delineate a competent tax attorney are significantly different from those of a personal injury litigator, or an environmental compliance specialist, or a labor law negotiator/ADR attorney to name just four areas of professional concentration. There is insufficient evidentiary support for the proposition that the LSAT is a viable surrogate for the requisite capacities inherent in all of the varieties of actual legal practice.

Dave has done a meticulous job in explaining the diminution in 25th percentile LSAT scores in the overwhelming majority of U.S. law schools. The widespread decline in this one metric indicates that some genuine phenomenon is underway, from some of the nation's most elite/highly ranked law schools to those at the opposite end of the putative prestige continuum. But to say that something phenomenological is happening is different from pinpointing its significance, if any.

If the LSAT, like the SAT or IQ test, is a flawed and incomplete measure of lawyerly capacity, it may not ultimately matter if the numbers decline drastically, even far more than has already taken place. In fact, if law faculties and support teams provide strong and professionally tailored assistance to candidates with a diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, learning styles, societal background, practical aptitudes, and innate skill sets, a reduced emphasis on the LSAT may in truth be salutary, and not something to decry.

I've said it before, and it bears repeating here. If I needed an attorney to help me with a real-world problem, I would want to know a lot of things about that person. His or her LSAT score would not be among them.

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