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Caliber of Law School Applicants Drops

Vivia Chen

April 11, 2012

Jughead Jones_Archie Comics_WikipediaA sign of market rationality—or the start of the decline of the legal profession? For the second year in a row, law school applications are down. According to the Law School Admission Council, "60,693 applicants submitted 440,964 law school applications as of March 30 for the academic year starting this fall," reports the New Jersey Law Journal. "That's 15.6 percent fewer applicants and 13.6 percent fewer applications than about the same time last year."

But here's the kicker: The smart ones (I use that term loosely to mean those with high LSAT scores) are leading the drop. Among those who score near the top on the LSATs (in the 170-174 range), applications to law schools have dropped by more than 20 percent (applications by those who scored at the very top—175 to 180—dropped by 13.6 percent). Reports The Atlantic:

What does that tell us? It says that fewer people who are smart and hardworking enough to even get that score are probably taking the LSAT, and even if they are, they've heard enough terrible news about the legal economy that they've chosen not to apply.

Now the bad, sad news: Among those with the worst LSAT scores, there hasn't been that much of a drop. For those who scored in the 140–144 range, the drop was just slightly over 6 percent; while for those in the 140 or below range, the drop was just over 4 percent.

In case, you've been out of the LSAT loop for a while, The Atlantic's Jordan Weissmann puts it in context:

To get into a top 50 law school, you need roughly a 160 on your LSAT, give or take a few points. To break into one of the vaunted Top 14 programs . . . you realistically at least need something closer to a 165. Once you start looking at the super elites, you're talking 170 and above.

I can hear some of your complaints already: Why the focus on the top schools? I've often been accused of elitism, but let me repeat my shtick: Law is an elite profession. And even if you don't aspire to work at an Am Law 100 or 200 firm, it behooves you to go to at least a top 50 school (personally, my cutoff would be top 20) if you want a realistic shot at getting a decent law-related job.

So what's the implication for the legal profession now that fewer high-scorers are going to law school? Will the quality of lawyers—especially those in Big Law—decline as a result?

Frankly, I don't think you need to be a genius to be a successful lawyer. In fact, I'd argue that if you're too smart or are too well-rounded, you'll probably be bored to tears by the repetitive nature of practice. In many ways, it's probably a healthy development that more mid-range applicants will fill the profession.

Really, there's a real silver lining in these latest law school application stats: Maybe those high scorers on the LSAT, who presumably have other options, will be pursuing more worthwhile professions, like medicine, science, or teaching.

Let's just hope they're not saving themselves for Goldman Sachs. 


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The # of law school applicants has sharply decreased over time, leading law schools to admit an increasing % of them.

This trend has continued to the point that the shrinking pool of applicants will force law schools to significantly lower their standards or risk decreasing the tuition money upon which their existence depends.

Details: http://lsatblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/law-schools-admit-applicant-applies.html

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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