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October 27, 2015


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even if lsats are up (and it stands to reason that they would be slightly up) i doubt that translates into increased matriculants in Fall 2016. The mainstream press has been pretty tough on dear law school lately, and I think (rightly or wrongly) word is getting out that law school can be a dubious financial investment these days, simkovic's research from the 2008 data notwithstanding.

i'd venture a guess that matrics fall, and that congress tightens funding. we'll see a profession of 30,000 matrics per year, and it will be a healthy one.


I disagree. Employment outcomes have been improving in all sectors and legal education has made some meaningful changes, e.g., more clarity on employment outcomes, reduced tuition, greater emphasis on and appreciation for legal practice, etc.


I would be more curious to see what increase (if any) there has been in first-time takers over last year. Since test takers are not punished for retaking the exam, and the stakes are so high, I would not be surprised if there are far more repeaters than past years. In fact, I'd estimate the dollar value of an improved score at around $10,000 per point (160 to 165 equates to $50k more in scholarship at given school; 160 to 170 equates to $100k).

We may see an increase in applicants, but probably only 1-3%. Overall the applicant quality will be the same or worse as last year. That means many schools will have to fill seats with future bar exam failers, which brings its own set of problems.

terry malloy

NY Bar
Year July 2015
All Candidates 61 percent passed
All First-Time Takers 70 percent passed
All First-Time ABA Takers 79 percent passed

Nice work law schools.

Debt slaves that can't pass the qualification exam to become a lawyer.


"All Candidates 61 percent passed"

The bar exam is obviously racist, and needs to be abolished.

I'm sure there will be an oped in the New York Times within a few days making exactly this point.


Data confirm an uptick of 7.4 percent from last year. Looks like total LSAT numbers on track to be slightly below 2013--14 numbers, or around 105,000 total.

Will be interesting to see what this means for applications and more significantly, enrollment, and even more significantly, student quality.


Expanding on what Jojo said, the 2013-2014 LSAT administration year yielded the Fall 2014 class. So the Fall 2016 class will likely look similar to the Fall 2014 class. The Fall 2015 class will likely be worse than Fall '14 and Fall '16.

Each of these classes will fail the bar at a higher rate than the July 2015 exam takers. The first time test taker rate may dip below 70% in NY and MA. In California, even the ABA first time taker rate may drop below 50%.

It doesn't matter what the ABA or schools do to change now, the die is pretty much case for the next 4 years, and the media repercussions will be severe.

Matthew Bruckner

JM, I think that there are at least two reasons to cast a bit of doubt on your assertion.

First, schools have been aggressively investing in academic support. Unclear how much value these programs add, but to the extent they add any value it suggests that models using bar pass rates that incorporate data from a pre-academic support era will overestimate failure rates.

Second, to the extent that the average student in law schools is less academically capable (and particularly at schools with large cohorts of at-risk students), I would expect that professors would pitch their instruction down. My guess is that professors with an at-risk population are more likely to spend time on bread and butter legal analysis and less time on policy, etc. I think that there's reason to think a pedagogical shift is happening and that it also means that historic bar passage rates/LSAT correlations will overestimate failure rates.

Of course, I may be wrong.


I agree. There is a pedagogical shift occurring, with greater emphasis on practice, doctrine, and the development of young lawyers, rather than just legal thinkers. There are still many remnants of the prior state but things undeniably have and are shifting.


Matt, I think those are all good things to do, and they may help the students right on the margin. However, with regard to point 2, I wonder how much room there really is to refocus the curriculum. I graduated in 2009 from a school with a first-time bar passage rate around 97%. The bar exam was never even mentioned in any of my classes, and, in fact, we probably would have taken any specific reference to the bar as a minor insult to our intelligence. Still, I would guess that our core classes covered 90% of the bar exam tested material on the topic. When I prepped for the bar, none of the topics in Contract, Evidence, Torts, Criminal Law or Property were unfamiliar. I have to imagine it is the same at most schools.


I agree with the Matt's point about academic support. That can take a couple different forms, including a focus on making students better law students, as well as specific preparation for the bar. These are likely to help produce students better equipped to study for and pass the bar exam.

I am less sanguine about the larger pedagogical dimension he identifies. While I agree this shift is slowly occurring - and I support it - it isn't necessarily the best lever point for producing higher bar pass rates. "Lawyering" courses, in their many forms, may help students more easily transition to practice, and give them insights into the realities of doctrine that traditional teaching does not. However, these do not appear to be the skills tested on the current bar exam. And I don't see that professors teaching traditional courses are adjusting their approaches with bar passage in mind. They may be tacking a bit to better align their teaching with a student population that 1) has somewhat softer numerical qualifications, and 2) is more interested in doctrinally-grounded teaching than in past years. But this is not the same as preparing students for the bar exam.

True, schools could orient their teaching more directly to the bar; I assume this would work. But I don't think that kind of shift describes the pedagogical currents slowly making their way through legal education.

Adam Scales

Matthew Bruckner

Hi JM, Hi Adam,

Thanks for engaging. JM, even if your assertion is correct and that your experience is generalizable to most schools, I don't know that your ultimate conclusion is correct. It's not most schools that have >25% of their class that are at "high risk" of failing the bar based on their LSAT scores. We're talking about a small subset of schools. Based on my experience teaching at "third tier" law schools, faculty evidence more concern about bar passage than my professors did when I was a student. This concern affects course offerings, the pressure on students to take bar classes, and (at least for me) how those courses are taught.

Adam, my second point (above) was much less about the shift toward "practice-readiness" than it was about taking the time to explain bread-and-butter legal doctrine (i.e. common law contract formation) to ensure that even the weaker students are following along. When a class was 45 students who'd get it without repetition, and 5 who wouldn't, perhaps you'd let those 5 sink. If your class is 35/15 or 30/20, I think professors will spend more time ensuring those who would have sunk in the prior state of the world are now able to swim. But again, it's just a theory.

p.s. Al, sorry to highjack your post.

confused by your post

The question is why are more people taking the LSAT?

There are no clear or obvious answers. Nevertheless, we have an uptrend over the last few administrations. I would expect it to continue although I don't understand why.

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