Many Law Schools Lower Admissions Standards

InsideHigherEd has an enlightening article discussing the issues surrounding law schools lowering admissions standards.

As the article notes, "[e]nrollment at ABA-accredited law schools is the lowest it has been since 1973, even though there are 53 more law schools open now, according to Moody's Investors Service. As the number of students going to law school drops dramatically, law schools are increasingly competing for students with lower undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Professors who study legal education worry that schools are enrolling more and more students who have not proved they can graduate law school. Equally concerning is that law schools are admitting and then graduating students who might not be able to pass the bar exam."

In fact, "five years ago, no American Bar Association-accredited law school had an entering class with a median LSAT score of less than 145. Now, seven law schools do, according to Jerome M. Organ, a professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law who studies the legal market. That means at least half the first-year students at seven law schools scored a 144 on the LSAT or lower."

And why is this a problem? A "145 is considered a symbolic line by legal education experts and school administrators." Studies show that law students that fell below that 145 mark on the LSAT will have a tougher time passing the bar exam.

The other issue with lower admissions standards is that "[s][tudents with lower LSAT scores pay more to attend law school than students with higher scores. Organ found two-thirds of students with scores below 150 are paying more than $30,000 a year for law school, but they may not pass the bar and have "limited employment opportunities through which to recoup their investment in a legal education." The average student who scored 155 or higher pays less than $30,000 a year, attends a better-regarded law school and has better chances after graduating."

So these students are making a risky bet on both time and money in their law-school investments. But it's not only a problem for the students. "It is also bad for law schools if their students graduate but fail to pass the bar, a sign that schools may be passing students through without preparing them for actually being a lawyer." And ABA accreditation standards are tied to bar-passage rates.

There is some debate over the usefulness of the LSAT as an overall predictor of success. "It’s meant to predict first-year performance, but it is used as an imperfect way of predicting graduation and bar passage rates." And some law school are starting to use a wider-range of performance criteria to determine admittance and ultimate success.

What most legal education experts to agree on is that this population of students "is going to require more ... support mechanisms in school. And it also will mean that the curriculum will have to be adapted to the different character of the students, and it may mean that more intensive support for bar passage will have to be provided.”

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