The first rule of business involves supply and demand. A high supply and low demand spells doom for any industry. Unfortunately for law schools, demand is getting lower because fewer qualified students are applying for law school. In order for law schools to continue to exist, there need to be either fewer schools or law schools need to increase demand by artificially increasing the pool of prospective students by lowering standards.
Put simply: Schools are either lowering their admission standards or suffering enrollment decline.
Law school trends show that schools have opted to lower standards to keep class sizes as close to optimal as possible. Legal education experts had considered an LSAT score below 145 to be a symbolic cut off point; that is, students scoring below this mark would most likely not have the skills to succeed in law school.
According to Jerry Organ, professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law who studies the legal market, seven law schools now have an entering class with the median LSAT score below 145. Five years ago, no school had an entering class with such a low median score. In addition, Organ reports, "136 law schools had a median LSAT score of 155 or higher in 2010. Now, only 101 schools still have an entering class with a median LSAT of 155 or higher."
Despite the lower standards, there are still fewer people attending law school. According to Moody's Investors Service, law school enrollment is at its lowest point since 1973 although there are 53 more ABA accredited law schools in operation.
As law school admissions departments scramble to fill classroom seats with students who would have been considered unqualified less than a decade ago, law schools find themselves in an ethical dilemma. Is it irresponsible to admit students into law school who probably aren't capable of graduating? Or even worse, is it irresponsible to graduate students who have little chance of passing the bar exam?
Both possibilities are a huge risk facing under-qualified students of both time and money. In addition to not being able to obtain lucrative work to pay off law school debt, individuals who score lower on the LSAT end up paying more for the privilege of attending. Students with an LSAT score of less than 150 are paying more than $30,000 per year, whereas those above the 150 mark pay less.
Although admissions offices are scrambling to find qualified candidates for their law schools, an ever increasing number of potential students are finding more flexibility an opportunities when it comes to earning a degree.
Proponents of lowering admission standards to their school cite the obvious advantage that individuals, who in the past would never have an opportunity to attend law school, are now getting a chance. Although competition at elite schools is still fierce, those unable to get in to these schools are finding it much easier to gain admission to more accessible 2nd and 3rd tier law schools. In addition, law school egalitarian proponents argue that many of these low-scoring students are capable of obtaining a degree and passing the bar, even if their credentials aren't as high as others.
One way schools are combating declining enrollment issues is through flexibility. Although a nuisance for admissions personnel, the hard rules of the past are no longer barriers. In the past, for example, incoming students were urged to get their applications submitted as early as possible. In the present, however, the rule of early application submission is not as important (although it is still a good idea). In some cases, schools are waiving application deadlines in order to meet enrollment goals.
As the quality and scores of law school applicants decrease, admissions offices are scrambling to attract more highly qualified candidates by aggressively advertising merit-based scholarships. In this case, the law of supply and demand is working well for prospective law students.
With the number of law school applicants declining each year, it is getting harder to bring in the desired candidates needed to fill your classrooms. But imagine if you could tell your school's unique story in a way that gets those candidates to apply, increasing your applicant pool and strengthening next year’s incoming class?
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