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August 31, 2015


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Paul Campos

Data on (1) and (2) are freely and easily available by looking up the 509 disclosure forms for individual schools. These are collected for the previous four academic years on the ABA's web site, and can be found going back to 2004 by looking up the archived web copies of the ABA Annual Guide to Law Schools. Indeed up until last year the 509s actually list each school's faculty to student ratio, using the arcane and now defunct formula by which a TT faculty member counts as one, a non-TT full-time faculty member counts as .7, an adjunct counts as .2, and so forth. Although with the abolition last year of the formal rule as to what constitutes an acceptable faculty to student ratio the ratio is no longer listed, it can still be easily calculated by simply comparing the the raw numbers of various kinds of faculty against the school's current JD enrollment (both are on the 509s).

The 509s also list how many applicants a school got, how many it admitted, how many matriculated, and what the median, 75th, and 25th LSATs and GPAs of the matrics were. Prospective students should pay attention not only to the changing percentage of applicants admitted, but also to the school's admissions criteria. Are they holding steady? (Hello Yale, Stanford, and Harvard). Declining slightly? Declining moderately? Falling like a rock?

Another thing that can be sussed out quite readily from the 509s, and which is of particular importance to prospective students, is the school's effective, as opposed to its advertised, tuition. The 509s reveal what percentage of JD students are getting a discount, and what the median, 25th, and 75th percentiles of those discounts look like. The extent to which sticker tuition is being discounted varies enormously among schools that have similar nominal attendance costs. And of course the extent to which a school's willingness to discount is increasing is potentially quite significant in regard to its overall health.

Bar passage rates are also on the 509s, and ought to be of great interest to potential students, although unfortunately there's a couple of year lag in the data, so this should be researched more thoroughly via state bar sites.


Jeff, could you provide more details on your thoughts on #3? Your description covers a lot of ground, and I'd be interested in hearing precisely what sorts of titles indicate a dip in quality.

Jeff Redding

Hi Anon: I can't survey all 200 schools and their title structures here, but I'd be happy to hear from others who either agree or disagree.


Admissions "yield" can be rather bogus. Many schools these days carefully ask potential applicants or waitlist people in some way "show me you will come and then I will make an offer to you." If they do not say they will come, they are denied admission, and thereby guve the false impression that the school is selective. Or students whose LSAT is too high and the admissions people do not believe they will come are denied admission.


Jeff, I don't know if others can know whether to agree or disagree. Do you mean if a school hires a large number of VAPs, that shows a decline in quality? Or, by "kinds" of professors, do you mean using cross/ dual appointments for curricular coverage with titles like "Professor of Government"? Or, are there other sorts of titles that indicate a dip in quality?


Regarding number 1: as many school saw a drop in enrollment they were also reducing faculty through buyouts, layoffs, retirements do both numbers may have declined simultaneous leaving the ratios unchanged, or at least not dramatically changed.

Regarding number 3: Jeff, this seems far-fetched and your failure to agrees anonprof regarding it makes me think that we cannot point to a school or schools where titles are changing in response to economic pressures. Law schools have created a lot of titles in relatively recent years to accommodate clinicians, LRW faculty, library directors and others. Admins cannot just come up with titles on the fly. At ,oat law schools and universities faculty by laws and Other governing documents as well as HR policies control titles and ranks .


I think if you looked at Mr. Redding's own school - St. Louis - and was a yield rate of 28 percent, then you looked across town at Wash U St. Louis and saw a yield rate of 19 percent, you may think that the latter is dying but the former is not.

Then, you may want to look at the credentials of the class, and you will see students with much higher credentials LSAT/GPA are attending Wash U than St. louis, and you would realize that yield does not matter that much in determining schools that will likely close.

Yield is easily manipulable by admissions offices. And yield has more to do with where your prospective students are also applying.

John Haskell

Two brief thoughts in addition to (the useful) conversation info already:

1) Schools seem to increasingly be offering certificate programs or demonstrating via curriculum information (classes packaged together / externship credits) how a student could a achieve particular career trajectory - the amount of extern placement and so forth might be interesting post-graduation indication (probably by consulting with Clinical Extern director or admissions, etc); and

2) Re no.3, it seems to me that a lot of times professors don't take on multiple titles but they are re-tasked into additional committees, stuff that often doesn't show up on websites or isn't easily available to students. The titles that would seem most relevant to me would be, as Leo suggested, more linked to clinical / writing / recruitment, etc, administrative positions - e.g., at our institution there was a significant move away from adjuncts to full time / long term contract legal writing / academic success professors and a subsequent shift in the program approach as well.

Simply to extent student looking for the best deal, it seems to me that the proximity of the law school to where one wants to teach (unless a higher top tier), opportunities for networking / experience (e.g., externships, etc) and scholarship opportunities are the key variables. Predicting moves at the law schools or institutional trends, more of interest with faculty / administrations, would probably look to different factors, etc...


Second what John says; I would think that students would be interested in getting jobs & passing the bar more than any other factor.

the most interesting breh

A little off topic, but I found this the most interesting portion of the post since it mimics my conversations with prospectives to some degree:

"First, most (prospective) students don’t realize—and can’t contemplate—that many law schools (and their mother universities) are run like for-profit entities these days. This is not to say that they are run well, but it is to say that, increasingly, administrative decisions about admissions, curricular offerings, library opening hours, and a million other things are made on the basis of $$$ considerations. The $$$ calculation may be questionable, bogus, or corrupt, but it’s there. Nonetheless, (prospective) students don’t really want to believe this and thus don’t bring the healthy skepticism that they should bring into any transaction in our capitalist educational system."

Really, I think this is the most important part of the conversation since it almost never seems to naturally register with any prospective student. Admissions is not about education. It is about an economic transaction that will profoundly affect the student for the rest of their life.


I don't understand # 3. Is "proliferation of titles" just fancy for saying that alarms should go off if a substantial number of the courses are taught by individuals who are not tenure-track faculty? Or is the point something different that is eluding me?

John Haskell

Jeff/Breh's point about the financial liabilities incurred by students as a central discussion for law school administrations seems dead on.

Obviously, challenges emerge on this point: aka, who is responsible for educating students (student loan providers, school advisors, etc), to what extent should schools lower tuition (and how to go about this, and what unintended effects might come up - e.g., public schools lower tuition, puts private schools out of business, which centralizes private schools and then public funding drop to state universities, which might all get us right back in previous situation), to what extent should student loans be more difficult to receive (but does this price students out of the market), and so forth...

The immediate issue, it seems to me, is that especially non-state schools do not want to see any significant drop in admissions, and the administrative staff often does not have a strong inclination to knowing the ins and outs of the student loan process or wanting to 'un-sell' students for law school. So the question becomes how to get the law school administration to 'buy in' to much more effective in house education of finances for prospective and current students. Some tactics in this regard that have seen starting to be implemented are: a) more adequate information to veterans about student benefits at an early stage, and b) demonstrating to admissions that educating students on finances (not only when applying but also with staggered orientations throughout their law school career that are mandatory) and providing more options can be a big 'hook' to bring in prospective students and a focus on alumni funding to help offset costs due to scholarships.

Derek Tokaz


I think considering yield rate, what you really want to look at is a combination of LSAT/GPA stats and merit awards.

If the school is remaining stable for its LSAT/GPA, but merit awards are going up, then it's still having a tough time recruiting (but note that it's yield rate may be improving during this time).

If the school is losing LSAT/GPA, but it's merit awards are increasing, the school is probably in a lot of trouble.

From 2011 to 2014, American went from 162 median LSAT to 156 (GPA was relatively stable). In 2011, 37.8% of the class got a scholarship, and in 2014 that number rose to 49%. (Award amounts were fairly stable for the period.) Factoring in tuition increases over the same people (+$4k) could mean that the school's revenue hasn't taken a massive hit, but it's a sign that their current situation isn't sustainable.


Is there any chnace that GIF's could not be used?



McCawberism dictates that it is relatively unlikely that a law school that is 'breaking even' will close down, barring some major scandal and fiasco. So the fundamental question comes down to: (a) is the school loss-making; (b) can cuts be made that can eliminate the losses; (c) can the facilities be readily repurposed (i.e., are they contiguous to a larger campus); and (d) is the law-school perceived as less prestigious than the host institution.

I think the most common early way that a law school will disappear is through a cross-town or cross-metro merger. It is face saving for the host institution - this is what happened with Mitchell and Hamline, it is effectively what is happening with Rutgers Camden and Newark and it will happen elsewhere. Philadelphia, Birmingham, Chicago, Boston, New York seem to be cities where this sort of rationalisation is possible and even likely - while California and Florida - something has to give. So if I was looking for signals that a law school is dying, things that suggest a merger is in the offing would be high up my list.


"increasingly, administrative decisions about admissions, curricular offerings, library opening hours, and a million other things are made on the basis of $$$ considerations. The $$$ calculation may be questionable, bogus, or corrupt, but it’s there."

This is an interesting perspective: would you suggest that administrators make such decisions *without* considering the budget? Was there ever a time when law schools could do so?

It would be wonderful if that were possible, but other than the very wealthiest law schools, I do not see how one could make such decisions devoid of budgetary considerations.

Just saying...

Anon at 2:33 is correct. Even in boom times, Virtually ALL decisions considered budgetary implications and it is not bogus, questionable or corrupt. Why waste money, most of which comes from student tuition (and thus student debt)? To do so would be far more questionable and corrupt than looking to save $$ while still providing services. The library is a perfect example. Many years ago, my former school reduced library hours to save money and I am sure most other academic law libraries did the same thing as students and faculty relied more on online resources.

Derek Tokaz


Based on transfer rates, isn't American basically already engaged in a crosstown merger?

Perhaps moving the law school closer to the main campus was a mistake.



DC is a market I'm familiar with. In DC itself there are six law schools, plus you really ought to include George Mason since its in Arlington, which gets you to seven - whether you include University of Baltimore and UMD-Baltimore is another issue. Of course the "national" law schools all compete heavily for jobs in the DC market, so Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, etc. are significant players as is UVa. But taking the seven in the DC area, mergers seem logical but unlikely. Remember a law school is most likely to merge with an institution that it can describe as a peer.

Georgetown and GW are not exactly peers and neither seems to be in the sort of trouble that would force a merger.

AU and Catholic increasingly might be seen as peers, bit would appear to be culturally very different institutions drawing from quite different demographics. Moreover, there would an embrace of two drowning men character to a merger (but won't there always be.) UDC has come and gone in various incarnations over the years - Howard is in some trouble, but is more selective than UDC. But as UDC is a state school would a merger there even be feasible?

George Mason is also a state school, but in a state with 8 law schools. UVa is much more selective than George Mason and I cannot see it being absorbed there, which leaves William & Mary, but it is in Williamsburg - a long was form the commuter campus of George Mason (150 miles), so its hard to see that working.

AU is dying a death of slow cuts, but its dying - the problem is, would a merge make things any better - and who would merge with AU's law school? I can't see any of the other DC schools doing it, except perhaps Catholic, and I don't see how it "fits."

Paul Campos

AU's law school isn't going anywhere as long as the federal government keeps loaning people who want to live in DC for three years while pursuing potential careers in International Human Rights Law $250K to do so.

Sure they've slashed their median LSAT from 163 to 156, but they had a first year class of 429 last year, and they barely discount their $50K per year sticker tuition -- 80% of their students paid at least $40K in tuition last year, on top of DC's oh so reasonable COL.

They're opening a shiny new building in a few months, which will no doubt help with further recruiting efforts. They're one of many schools with atrocious employment statistics that will continue to do just fine under the current financing structure of legal education.

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