While we’ve seen law schools close, merge or suspend enrollment over the last few years, it’s not uncommon for many to assume that a legal degree has somewhat lost its luster. However, it seems we may be mistaken. The legal industry recently felt a glimmer of hope fueled by applicant data and new testing options.
There hasn’t been a significant increase in the number of law school applicants since 2010. However, the upcoming academic year saw an 8% increase, as reported by the Law School Admission Counsel (LSAC). In total, 60,401 individuals applied for admission to law school this fall.
Skeptics (yours truly included) will pause to ask, “What is the quality of those applicants?”
Increased applicant numbers at a poor quality, in terms of test scores and grade point average, doesn’t necessary equate to a positive gain for law schools or the overall legal industry. However, the LSAC indicates the data shows more qualified applicants are included in the 8% increase.
The highest LSAT score range is 175-180. To put that in perspective, Yale Law (#1 on US News and World Report Law School Rankings) reports its class of 2020 has a median LSAT score of 173. Stanford’s Law program (#2 on US News and World Report Law School Rankings) reports a median LSAT score of 171. The LSAC reports that applicants whose score falls in the 175-180 range increased 60% over the previous year. In addition, there was an increase of 13% for the 170 -174 score range and a 27% increase for the 165-169 score range.
While applications are up, there is still a question of available and meaningful post-grad employment. The legal job market has unfortunately not grown as many would have hoped post-recession. Many newly licensed and experienced attorneys continue to struggle to find meaningful opportunities in their respective practice areas. An influx of new graduates could negatively impact salaries in a still somewhat weak market.
LSAC president, Kellye Testy said, “Overall, it’s good news. But we want to make sure we’re really being thoughtful about matching the enrollment side with the employment opportunity side.”
The LSAT is also shedding its antiquated skin and offering new testing options that may further impact admission rates. New options in both LSAT availability and format are on the horizon. Today, the LSAT is still taken in paper format. Yes, test takers must use a good old No. 2 pencil to handwrite responses over the course of the approximately 7-hour, multiple day exam. In addition, test takers only get six opportunities a year to sit for the exam.
However, in the spring of 2019 the test will leave its paper format behind. With the GRE accepted by a number of law schools, it’s time for the LSAT to adapt. The LSAC will begin to administer the exam on tablets, using software it developed. In addition, starting in the 2020 admissions series, the exam will be given ten times a year.
An increase in applicants combined with better testing options and availability are positive gains for law schools. However, a law degree and license are only one part of the puzzle. The end game for law school applicants is ultimately a return on their investment, i.e. a meaningful job. And in that area, many still face an upward battle.