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August 12, 2015


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Paul Campos

A source of confusion here is that LSAC only counts applicants who apply during the current cycle, when doing a year over year comparison. But then at the end of the cycle LSAC throws in people who were admitted during the previous year's cycle and deferred their admission.

So for instance, at the end of last year's cycle LSAC reported in August of 2014 that 54,527 people had applied, with this representing 100% of applicants for the cycle, but then it subsequently reported that there was a total of 55,700 applicants in the 2013-14 cycle, counting deferrals from the previous cycle.

What this has to do with the reported 55,702 number I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if the correct number of applicants during the cycle is 1,000 less than that, as Alfred Brophy speculates, and that the final number of applicants, including deferrals, is slightly higher than last year, given that LSAC counted nearly 1,200 deferrals from the 12-13 cycle as applicants in the 13-14 cycle (how many of those people actually ended up enrolling in 13-14 is unknown, although it could be determined by plowing through all the 509s I suppose).



Have you observed a decrease in student quality in the last 5 years? I know the data show it, but do you notice it in class?

Alfred L. Brophy

Jojo, that's a good question. I have not noticed a difference. There are a few things going on that may explain this. First, I'm not sure that a few points on the LSAt represent a huge difference in student aptitude. That is, I don't know how much of a difference there really is between someone who has a 163 and another person with a 158. I think a lot of the difference, to the extent there is one, can be made for with effort. I'd be interested in other teachers' reactions. Second, even if there is a difference I'm not sure that I'm in position to notice it over the years. Maybe I just have a poorer memory than others, but I'm not sure that I can accurately gauge the quality of my trusts and estates class from 2009 to 2015. I might remember the real standouts in quality, but beyond that it's hard to make year over year comparisons.

Cent Rieker

Professor Brophy,
There may be a marginal, if not negligible difference in your class quality. But you teach at UNC Law, a public flagship. I wouldn't expect there to be a stark plummet in your class. The real noticeable drop will be in lower ranked private schools whose bottom a decade ago was a 150 LSAT, and now admit students with scores in the high 130s and low 140s. I know 10 years ago that my GPA and 160 LSAT got me a few rejections from schools that now offer scholarships for comparable credentials.

Derek Tokaz


A good way to tell if there's much difference between a few score points would be to look at undergraduate programs. See if professors notice a difference in quality among honors and non-honors students. At my alma mater (RTR), you only needed to score 2 points above the class average on the ACT to be in the honors program, and I suspect many schools have honors stats similarly close to the regular stats (students performing well over the average will likely go to a much better school).

You could also compare performance between honors and non-honors students in their common gen ed classes (classes they take before any resource advantages of the honors program have had time to kick in). This would help to give a more objective measure, instead of relying on impressions which may be significantly biased.


Jojo, you don't need to ask if there has been a drop in quality, everyone can see there has been a drop in quality. If Brophy doesn't think 5 LSAT points makes much difference in student quality, then why do schools routinely offer $100,000+ more in scholarship money for this level of discrepancy (e.g. 165 v. 160). Five points is also frequently the difference between and near automatic accept and a near automatic reject at a school.

Brophy may have a point that a candidate with a 158, but that is tremendously strong in work ethic and personal skills may be superior to a candidate with a 163 that is lacking those qualities, but with the declining applicant pool, there is no reason to believe those unmeasurable attributes have not declined right along with LSAT scores. They certainly haven't increased, which would be required not to see a difference.

[I have edited this comment to delete inflammatory material. AB]


But JM is there any research suggesting that 5 LSAT points makes any difference in the quality of lawyers? If not, then why worry about that? If so, then why aren't you encouraging smarter people to go to law school?



I just wonder if the difference in horsepower actually is noticeable.


@ Anon,

The fact that the market (e.g. law firms over 10 attorneys, Govts, Courts) routinely hire straight down the line starting with the best law schools and ending in the T50 or so is pretty strong circumstantial evidence of the LSAT's potency since by far the primary selection criteria in admissions is the exam. If the market wanted other qualities (character, work ethic, personality), they could pretty easily find them at all the lower ranked law schools. In fact, I think every Dean knows that nothing would ruin a law school's reputation in the 1st year associate market faster than a 5 point YOY decline in lsat profile. In short, there is very strong market reinforcement of the LSAT as a selection process.

Why am I not encouraging smarter people to go into law? I don't want more smart people do go into law, I want fewer dumb people to go into law.

Alfred L. Brophy


You misunderstood what I was saying. I'm not even sure you bothered to read the question. I was answering Jojo's question of whether I noticed a difference in the quality of my students over the past few years and the answer is no, I haven't. (I started at UNC in 2008, so that's as far back as I can go here.) Are you a teacher? Have you noticed a difference in the students you teach over that time? And what's your evidence that there's an appreciable difference in the quality of a student with a 158 and one with a 163?

To answer your question of why schools compete so hard for top students, perhaps because that matters to their US News ranking.

And, JM, please leave out the inflammatory accusations in the future. With this new school year I'm implementing a new policy to police comments substantially more than I have in the past. I appreciate your participation in the discussion. Feel free to participate in the discussion, but do so civilly or I will edit or take down entirely your comment.



A few responses . . .

"What's your evidence that there's an appreciable difference in the quality of a student with a 158 and one with a 163?"

See the market based theory I posited above. The law school outcomes for a 163 are going to be hugely superior to 158 on average. There has to be some support for my argument there.

"To answer your question of why schools compete so hard for top students, one answer might be because that matters to their US News ranking."

Chicken and the egg phenomenon here. Why does USNews prioritize LSAT so much? Probably because consumers trust it.

"And, JM, please leave out the inflammatory accusations in the future."

The tone was rude, and I apologize for that, but the substance had merit given the way you presented the argument. Anyway, I will retract even the substance, because I can now see that your school has had nothing like a 5 point LSAT drop. In fact, it was only been 2 points. So it makes much more sense that you have not witnessed a significant decline in student quality. However, I don't think your experience provides a basis to say 5 points on average doesn't make a difference.

[I wasn't saying that UNC has experienced a five point drop -- I was saying that I doubted whether there was a whole lot of difference between the classroom & exam performance of students with those scores. (Or at least that's how I understood Jojo's question.) And that I hadn't noticed a difference in the average quality of my students -- which you point out has fluctuated a couple of points. Thanks for that -- I didn't know the exact numbers.

Everyone who did well on the LSAT wants to think that they're much smarter than people who did somewhat less well. Maybe that's true, but that hasn't been my observation. At any rate, I think we've come to some understanding. Thanks for commenting. Peace to everyone. AB]

Derek Tokaz


This is very anecdotal, but I've sat in on honors sections of the same class I teach, and (no offense to my own students) the honors students do seem noticeably smarter. I've talked to people who have taught both regular and honors sections, and they confirmed the same. In fact, many professors prefer to teach honors sections precisely because they get to work with brighter students. The difference between a 158 and a 163 on the LSAT is from the 74th to 88th percentile. That looks pretty significant, and is likely bigger than what you'd see between regular undergrad sections and undergrad honors sections. (The difference between the honors college minimum at Alabama and the school-wide median on the ACT was 7 percentile points.)

[Interesting + important observation. I'm not surprised that students who've been selected for an honors section are more motivated and more able on average than those who aren't (or who haven't chosen to join it). I'm not sure if you hold constant motivation that there's a lot of difference between the 74th and 88th percentile. Perhaps there is. I'd be a little surprised.

I'm not sure what the change in median LSAT here at UNC has been over the time I've been here; I think it's declined a few points from the high, which was maybe fall of 2010. I can't say that I think the current students have noticeably different aptitude/interest than those in my first class. AB]


OMG, somebody let DT teach??

DT, how can you stand being part of an institution you routinely trash??

Professor T. Roll

DT isn't teaching law, he's an MFA student.


Ha. MFA's in Boston cost 40K and up and in NY 50K and up. I wonder how many of them get jobs as actors, writers, directors, dancers? Can we expect MFA-T to start up soon?

Derek Tokaz


I don't teach at a law school. But as for people working for institutions they "routinely trash," doesn't that describe just about everyone who ends up in a law firm, especially biglaw?

And regarding MFA-T, I don't think it would be necessary. Few people are going to MFA programs thinking it's going to lead to job security or a million dollar earnings premium. Also, I forget the exact figure, but about 20 of the top 25 creative writing programs give full scholarships (plus a stipend) to 100% of their students. I still think they should be honest about their career stats when they publish them, but it's really just a completely different animal than the JD with its own set of issues.


DT - you take yourself way too seriously, dude.

Derek Tokaz

Someone has to.

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