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Law school in America moves toward an open admissions policy

[ 94 ] July 31, 2013 |

Here is the percentage of law school applicants who were admitted, over the last decade, to at least one ABA-accredited law school to which they applied, by year:

2004: 55.6%
2005: 58.6%
2006: 63.1%
2007: 66.1%
2008: 66.5%
2009: 67.4%
2010: 68.7%
2011: 71.1%
2012: 74.5%
2013: 76.8%

Keep in mind that somewhere around 3% of all law school applicants have the kinds of background issues that create serious liability issues for any school that admitted them. Another 5% or so have entrance qualifications (bottom 5% LSAT scores combined with 2.1 GPAs from bad colleges) that indicate their inability to do even basic college level work, and thus make it almost certain they will not be able to pass a bar exam, not matter how much remediation they are subjected to during law school (low enough bar passage rates could affect a law school’s accreditation). In addition, the average applicant applies to eight schools (there are 202 ABA law schools at the moment), and some significant percentage of applicants will, prudently, not apply to any school below a fairly high rank.

This in effect means that over the course of the last decade, American law schools have moved from a moderately selective admissions model to a quasi-open enrollment policy. If you have a college degree, can get 35 out of 100 questions on the LSAT correct (you are likely to get 20 right by simply guessing, and each year some people rack up perfect scores — it is not, in other words, a very difficult test), and don’t seem likely to go on a shooting spree, you’ll be admitted to a genuine ABA-accredited law school.

The long-term effects of this fundamental shift on the status of the legal profession, and more important, the quality of legal services available to non-corporate people, remain to be seen.

Comments (94)

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  1. TribalistMeathead says:

    “(low enough bar passage rates could affect a law school’s accreditation)”

    For now, but really, how far are we from law schools pressuring accreditation bodies not to factor that in, because how could schools possibly be held accountable for students unable to pass the bar, blah blah blah.

  2. What’s the source for this? When did admission to law school stop being competitive? Time was that the percentage of graduates who were accepted to law school was a selling point for a lot of undergraduate programs– in fact, in my city the local Jesuit college still has a billboard touting the fact that some large percentage of its students who apply to law school are accepted. I’d be interested in knowing what the numbers were like going back further.

  3. kindasorta says:

    “the quality of legal services available to non-corporate people”

    If we’re referring to public defenders and NLSA, those jobs offer (a) litigation experience and (b) the 10-year IBR public service discharge, not to mention (c) the increasing stinginess of state and federal government that will necessitate ongoing layoffs or elimination of positions through attrition of their current holders. Therefore, I expect those jobs should remain highly competitive for most of the bare majority of law graduates who find work in their chosen profession.

    Not that it offers any comfort to the kids who somehow missed the scam brouhaha and ended up attending Cleveland State or Cooley or InfiLaw-Des Moines because a JD is a versatile degree and student loan debt is good debt.

    • Paul Campos says:

      Government jobs are going to get increasingly competitive for the reasons you list. Where the quality of legal representation is likely to decline is in the non-corporate private sector, as graduates with increasingly worse credentials struggle to try to make a living as solos or in very small firms.

    • Johnny Sack says:

      Speaking of which, what are your exit options as an ADA? Most are at will, they don’t have federal employee protections. Seems to me in all places but maybe Manhattan your options are basically to hang a shingle (or AUSA jobs, which are *insanely* competitive, no matter how awesome your résumé). Great if you want to do that, but how many people know that? How many people strike out at OCI, can’t find a private sector job, and go to the DA’s office for the trial experience in the hopes of going to a non-insurance defense mill? There are careers with fewer dead ends and roundabouts.

      • Johnny Sack says:

        Also, unless you work in the Appeals bureau, you get very little research and writing experience (boilerplate motions, etc), important if you want to move up to a firm. Your best bet is probably a white collar bureau. The private sector gives much less of a fuck about your homicide bureau experience than you think. If you think you’re movin on up from there, maybe it’s best to cut your losses early on. If you have a passion for criminal law though, being a prosecutor is a lot of fun.

        • Barry says:

          My guess is that you learn who’s crooked, who cuts corners, and eventually use that as a defense attorney. You’d know where to poke holes in the prosecution’s case.

          • Johnny Sack says:

            Honestly? Every office culture is different, and there can be massive sea changes when a new DA is elected (or appointed, depending on your state). There can be major differences depending on the bureau chief.

            And even if that weren’t the case, it’s nothing sharp defense lawyers don’t pick up from experience.

        • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

          I wasn’t an ADA/ASA, but I worked with some of them. A lot try to make a career in the same office. A lot try to trade up to a better office. (Most of the entry-levels seemed to be in the suburban and exurban counties, then they’d try to trade up to the bigger central county.) A lot try to trade up to state or federal government (though federal is really tough). A few go to crim defense firms, though not as many as you’d think — there’s really only a few firms that pay better than the DAs do. More try to go to plaintiff’s PI firms.

      • Xenos says:

        ADA jobs? When I graduated from a top-25 school only two people in my class even got ADA jobs. One was in the top 10% of the class, the other had connections. And that was ten years ago, when the job paid 28,000 in Boston.

        Do they even pay for those positions any more?

        • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

          Depends on the county. Some do, but it’s winning to lottery to get a job there unless you know someone (the public postings get hundreds or thousands of applications). Others don’t. You go and work for free and hope that they consider you for a paying spot after six months or so.

          • Xenos says:

            A friend of mine had connections at Suffolk ADA and got a volunteer job there in 1992 or so, another fairly glutted moment in the Boston market. They did eventually pay him, but the key to this adventure was his being modestly well off and rather notoriously thrifty. He could have done a lot better for himself, IMO.

        • Johnny Sack says:

          The problem is, especially now, that the difficulty of getting these jobs is out of whack with the future opportunities they provide. Insanely competitive to get even less prestigious clusterfuck offices (like the Bronx), and not a lot of exit options beyond PI and insurance defense. And it’s not worth staying ($) unless you move up quickly, and even then, if you’re in a leadership role your head may roll if your DA loses an election.

  4. Funny Money says:

    That’s just nuts. I thought the current crop of mouth breathing lawyers was bad. In the name of “diversity” we’ll have a bunch of troglodytes doing a disservice to clients in a field where an honest lawyer can’t make a buck.

    But I guess we have to keep the law schools at full capacity somehow. What else can we do with all that cheap federal money?

    So ends the profession . . .

    • Jim MIlles says:

      Funny Money, leave the racist comments out of it. It’s not about “diversity.” It’s about applications to law schools plummeting because the job market is getting worse.

      • Funny Money says:

        I think the diversity argument is b.s., which is why it is in quotes. It is in quotes because it is like kryptonite to the would-be critics of law schools. Every time anyone proposes shutting down schools, tightening lending standards, raising the score required on the bar to pass, law schools trot out the old saw of diversity, expansion, equal access, and educational opportunities.

        It is complete bunk, and it’s meant to goad well-meaning and guilty feeling people in line.

      • Johnny Sack says:

        A lot of even top schools screw their minority students over. They let them in for paper diversity, but a lot of them from underprivileged backgrounds founder at on campus interviews. Look at a place that shall not be named, but is the new york Ivy League school not located in Ithaca. It’s assumed that everyone is at least from an upper middle class background, and that’s the direction they’re shoved in. Academic support is minimal, and so is job search support.

        I’m *not* making a crypto-racist argument, although it may sound like it. I’m saying that some elite schools don’t do much for their students from non-privileged backgrounds. It may be hard for an outsider to believe, but trust me.

        • Funny Money says:

          Johnny Sack,

          This is consistent with my experience. Law schools want paper diversity and want to be champions of some theoretical “diversity” and openness and inclusiveness narrative.

          When it comes to making any sort of effort or sacrifice whatsoever to advance said agenda or to tackle tough questions, they run or attack the questioner. When one asks how their educational system, lending system, debt system, job placement system, lack of mentoring system, actually helps improve diversity or encourage access in the profession, they attack the questioner.

          The credit belongs to the man in the arena, not to the critcs.

      • Philip Arlington says:

        There is no doubt whatsoever that the diversity excuse is one of the main defences used by the law school establishment.
        It is not a favour to persuade a minority kid to go $200K in debt for a fantasy of self betterment which would still be a fantasy if they were an albino Swede.

        Limousine liberals are exploiting minority kids to preserve their own privileges. They are now the ones who are exploiting the disadvantaged, and they should be made to face up to that shame.

        • brewmn says:

          Is there any problem you scumbags can’t try to blame on teh blacks?

          • BoredJD says:

            Not really blaming the blacks but the limousine liberals. “Access to law school for historically repressed groups” is one of the main defenses trotted out by diploma mills in urban areas. And one vocal law school defender has said that creating low cost law schools is going to lead us back on the road to separate but equal – the solution, of course, to charge kids from poor backgrounds 200K for a three year bar review course, because it’s not as if poor Americans already suffer enough from an inability to get credit.

            That being said, affirmative action at the top schools is not really an issue at all in this debate.

          • Philip Arlington says:

            I know one had to be prepared to be libelled if one speaks up on this issue, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

            I am not American, so I don’t fit into any of your prejudices about who the participants in this game are. I have a clear image of the type of person I am attacking, and that image is of a person who is white, privileged, and unbearably smug.

            You have a fundamental problem: you can’t distinguish between criticism of blacks and criticism of people who claim to be helping blacks, but are actually harming them.

            I’ll tell you how to help blacks: improve public schools. That means better discipline and more intellectual rigour, not just spending more money.

            • sharculese the ignoranus says:

              And you have one fundamental problem. You’re a whiny racist baby who blames other people for his own shortcomings.

              Okay that’s two problems. You have two fundamental problems.

              • sharculese the ignoranus says:

                Oh right, I forgot you were the throwing a hissy fit about white guilt in the Emmit Till thread.

                You keep going on about how you’re not American. And yet you seem to be certain you have America’s race problem figured out. Doesn’t that seem a little bit stupid to you?

            • manual says:

              That’s actually not correct at all. Improve their parents wages and create a strong social safety net for everyone. There is no greater determinant in America of life outcomes than the education and wealth of parents. Both require money and the former requires better fiscal and monetary policy.

    • Anonymous says:

      look at you dropping Sandow lines on a law blog smh

  5. Funny Money says:

    Above the Law has a good post for those considering law school:

    http://abovethelaw.com/2013/07/a-guide-for-choosing-a-low-ranked-law-school/

  6. Barry says:

    Paul: “The long-term effects of this fundamental shift on the status of the legal profession, and more important, the quality of legal services available to non-corporate people, remain to be seen.”

    No, because (a) these people won’t pass the bar and (b) they won’t be hired by any firm, or possibly even to do document review. They’ll hang out their shingles as solos/2-3 lawyer partnerships, and will struggle to get the odd client.

    • cpinva says:

      “No, because (a) these people won’t pass the bar and (b) they won’t be hired by any firm, or possibly even to do document review. They’ll hang out their shingles as solos/2-3 lawyer partnerships, and will struggle to get the odd client.”

      that’s kind of what I was thinking, the bar exam will be the ultimate filter. no bar exam passing, no law license. no law license, no practicing as a lawyer. or did I miss something here? is passing the bar exam that easy?

      the same is true in the accounting profession: he/she who can’t pass the CPA exam, can’t be licensed, no matter how many degrees from crappy schools you have.

    • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

      Yeah, but setting aside the true idiots — and Paul did that when he carved out the people who have sub-150 LSATs and sub-2.3 GPAs — a good chunk of the people right above that threshold are going to pass the bar exam, especially in the “easier” states. Now, maybe that chunk is only going to be 30% or 40% or 50%. But that’s still a LOT of people practicing law who shouldn’t be.

      • cpinva says:

        you’re right. I forgot the bar exam is, for the most part (as I understand it anyway), by state, and not a standard national test, like the CPA exam is.

        • Katya says:

          And they are all graded differently. Some states are notoriously easy (“Passachusetts”), for example. Some grade on a curve and pass the top X percent. There’s not a lot of uniformity, and I’m not sure what a given state bar will do if a larger-than-usual chunk of test takers perform truly poorly.

  7. Johnny Sack says:

    We should close all but the top 25-40 law schools. Add to that, I think each state deserves it’s own public law school (for those who want to stay in their small rural state and be ADAs or PDs or otherwise state civil servants or just work in the local market without a lot of debt). This can only happen once federal loans are capped. Stop letting a legal education be a gravy train, and the shit schools will fold like cheap suits.

    Opening a new school should be difficult and rare. Ideally the ABA would track the AMA and basically tell schools how many applicants they can admit in a given year.

    This isn’t even about artificially lowering supply anymore. Time was when a glibertarian might say that the onus is on you to be competitive. Would be a decent argument if law school were free or even very cheap. It’s not.

  8. Anti-Pushkin says:

    If you object to law school open admissions, it just means that you don’t want women and minorities to be lawyers, and want to go back to the evil days of Professor Kingsfield.

  9. divadab says:

    It seems to me the main systematic problem here is that Law Schools (and Universities in general) can write themselves risk-free government-guaranteed checks on behalf of their clients (I mean thralls, oh alright – students).

    It’s a great business to be in – sort of like a car dealer financing his sales, except without any credit risk. It amounts to a massive enhancement of the power of the university over their students – their ability to make the students debt peons without accountability.

    Yet another symptom of a federal machine that is not only expensive, but also apparently in the business of enslaving its ambitious citizens.

    I’m not sure of solutions (where to begin reforming an immensely powerful institution that is systematically corrupt?) – but a good place to start might be to take away student finance authority from the universities and put it in the hands of the students. IMHO this would eliminate some of the more egregious self-check-writing of the for-profit degree mills.

    FOr a better model one need look no further than Canada, in this, and also in the areas of financial regulation (ZERO bank bailouts, unlike the orgy of greed and corruption on Wall St) and health insurance (7% of GDP and EVERYONE has health insurance v. the US which spends over 15% of GDP and this will not reduce under Romneycare (I mean Obamacare, of course, which Mr. Romney opposes).

    WHy is the US ruled by the most venal, corrupt, and stupid?

  10. Funny Money says:

    Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Cooley lawsuit. The basis for dismissal was one of literal truth of a misleading statistic, and also the unreasonableness of relying on an “objective[] untru[th].” (see excerpts below).

    The whole legal educational system seems rigged. I don’t know why the Courts believe that some dopey 21 year old is sophisticated enough to recognize a partial truth and to reject as unreasonable an untruth when published by a law school.
    ___________________

    “Here, the graduates’ reliance on the “percentage of graduates employed” statistic to mean “percentage of graduates employed in full-time legal positions” was not reasonable because, as the district court noted, “basic deductive reasoning informs a
    reasonable person that the employment statistic includes all employed graduates, not just those who obtained or started full-time legal positions.” MacDonald, 880 F. Supp. 2d
    at 794 (citation omitted). We therefore conclude that the graduates failed to state a claim of fraudulent misrepresentation under Michigan Law based on the “percentage of
    graduates employed” statistic.”
    . . . .

    “We agree with the district court that this statistic is “objectively untrue,” MacDonald, 880 F. Supp. 2d at 794, but that the graduates’ reliance upon it was “also unreasonable,” id. at 796, which dooms their fraudulent misrepresentation claim.
    Despite the statement’s untruth, the graduates cannot demonstrate that their reliance on this statement was reasonable. Unreasonable reliance includes relying on an alleged misrepresentation that was expressly contradicted in a written contract that a
    plaintiff reviewed and signed. Novak, 599 N.W.2d at 553–54; Nieves, 517 N.W.2d at 237–38. A plaintiff unreasonably relies on one of the defendant’s statements if another
    of the defendant’s statements contradicts it. Here, the statement “average starting salary for all graduates” expressly
    contradicted other statements in the very same report showing that the report itself was based not on data for the entire class, but on data from those who completed the surveys.
    The Cooley graduates’ reliance on the statement that the “[a]verage starting salary for all graduates” was “$54,796” was unreasonable in light of both the statement that the
    “[n]umber of graduates with employment status known” was less than the total number of graduates and the very title of the report (a “Salary Survey”). Because their reliance was unreasonable, their claim for fraudulent misrepresentation failed as a matter of law.
    Therefore, the district court properly dismissed the claim.

    • Philip Arlington says:

      I despise judges when they say that something failed “as a matter of law” when common sense suggests that they started with the desired outcome and constructed a legal argument to reach that result. The galling thing is that if they don’t confess that they do this, it can never be proven, not even though it has probably happened millions of times.

      • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

        “As a matter of law” is just a term of art that means that dismissal is appropriate.

        • L2P says:

          Right, it means “there are no factual disputes in this case and so, based on the application of the law to the undisputed facts you win (or lose).” However, if the judge says it fails as a matter of law, and it’s upheld in appeal . . . the judge is right. That’s the law.

          Just ask Scalia!

  11. notanyuse says:

    When I was in college, a friend of a friend was trying to go to school to be a funeral director. She didn’t come from a family that owned a funeral home, and had no connections to the funeral business.

    She told me that the most difficult part wasn’t the admission requirements, per se, but that the schools didn’t want to admit her — either rejecting her outright, or calling and gently dissuading her from attending, emphasizing that the insular culture of the funeral business would make it really difficult for her to actually have a career.

    At the time, I thought “This is so unfair. She could end up being a really great mortician.” I didn’t realize, at the time, that the point was, school or not, she’d probably never be a mortician.

    Now, I think “I wish law schools would have done that.”

    If someone told me, “Listen, kiddo. You’re being admitted and given a handjob of a scholarship because we think your undergrad GPA and high LSAT score might balance out the lower GPA and LSAT of some abject dimwits and well-connected slackers who will pay full sticker price, but given that you’re a nobody, and have an undergraduate degree from a punchline-grade state university, the outlook for you, in particular, isn’t good, no matter what you accomplish here.”

    I keep having this perverse thought that perhaps law schools should abandon the pretense of admission standards at all, and just admit people who stand a chance of having a meaningful career as a lawyer. Sure, my feelings would have been hurt to be told “this isn’t, really, for you, kid” — but if I hadn’t gone to law school, there’s a chance I’d have a life worth living, someday.

    • JustMe says:

      the insular culture of the funeral business would make it really difficult for her to actually have a career.

      I would have thought that law would have created an insular culture of itself which would have prevented this whole scenario from happening in the first place.

      How did law end up becoming a “free market” rather than a tightly controlled trade association, as you would have expected?

      • PaulB says:

        Campos has covered this point. While the ABA regulates accreditation, the reality is that this is handled by a subgroup comprised of law school deans and professors. They have no concern about limiting admissions. To the contrary they want to create as many jobs at the highest possible salaries for professors and administrators.

    • Manny Kant says:

      Isn’t this basically what the ABA is supposed to be doing? There’s a lot of problems with medical education in this country (in particular, that we train too many specialists and not nearly enough GPs), but at the very least the AMA insures that there aren’t thousands of MDs being produced every year who have no chance of ever having a career as a doctor.

      • notanyuse says:

        I don’t think that the ABA is ever going to take the position that second-tier law schools should cease admitting objectively “qualified” people from middle or lower class backgrounds, and focus on what they do best: rehabilitating the resumes of rich, well-connected kids that blew the LSATs, but can be counted on to perform well during OCI.

        It would make a terrible press release.

      • cpinva says:

        “but at the very least the AMA insures that there aren’t thousands of MDs being produced every year who have no chance of ever having a career as a doctor.”

        part of that is due to the fact that the physical facilities requirements for training doctors are a lot more costly than those required for training lawyers, unless law students are now required to take chemistry and anatomy classes.

        • Manny Kant says:

          Part of it, maybe, but the AMA does seem to think it has a responsibility not to over-produce doctors, which just isn’t the case for the ABA and lawyers.

          • Amanda in the South Bay says:

            Does the AMA *under* produce doctors though?

            • L2P says:

              That depends on whether you think medical schools should produce MDs such that (1) every MD has a job, and (2) virtually every qualified MD gets a job that pays at least in the top 5%. If you think yes, that’s what medical schools should do, then they produce just about the right amount of doctors. If, on the other hand, you think the medical schools should produce enough doctors that (1) everybody can get reasonably priced medical care from doctors (2) in a timely manner, then no. They could easily produce 20% more grads per year.

              For comparison, imagine if only the top 50 law schools existed. Current lawyers would be thrilled, as would those in school. People needing divorce attorneys or workers comp reps (notoriously low-paying jobs) would be out of luck.

              • Johnny Sack says:

                The thing with medicine and law is, it doesn’t make sense to bemoan a general shortage but one within specialties.

                Easy within medicine because of the necessity of a residency. Oversupply of surgeons and undersupply of family medicine? Don’t necessarily let more or fewer med students into med schools, but open or close residency slots.

                But there’s nothing like that for law graduates. The closest to an elite specialty residency is biglaw but it doesn’t function quite the same way. There technically isn’t a shortage of lawyers, when you consider how many middle class, lower middle class, and poor folks need or would stand to benefit from legal services. The glut of lawyers reflects the oversupply of the type of lawyers at biglaw firms and corporations. Way too many people wanting to do high stakes, lucrative commercial litigation for example. Too many aspiring DOJ lawyers. But that doesn’t mean too many writ large, just as we understand the legal profession. There’s an oversupply in the market, but an undersupply for people who need them.

                It depends how you see it I guess. The Jacoby & Meyers revolution is over. There are tons of small law lawyers fighting for low margin scraps. There are way too many divorce/family law lawyers.

                The people representing themselves pro se in divorces aren’t doing so because there aren’t enough divorce lawyers (it’s one of the most common areas to hang a shingle-lots of people think it’s easy and lots of money). They’re doing it because they can’t afford a lawyer. There are plenty out of work lawyers who would try to do a divorce for whatever scraps they can get but someone has to pay them. That’s not going to be solved by graduating more students to fight over clients with no money. It’s going to be solved by increased funding for public interest organizations like legal aid. There are already out of work lawyers who would fill a position like that. But where is the money going to come from?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Barring maybe 30 schools, law school is really better viewed as part of the education industry rather than the legal profession. For the most part, law school is no different from the majority of worthless master’s degrees (international relations, public health, gender studies, etc.), which exist because the large number of lost, naive college graduates offers such a capitalistic opportunity.

    • Funny Money says:

      This is the Credited Response.

      If the cost of post-college education were privately borne, there would be no educational scam. I endorse high quality universal secondary education. I get the public’s interest in opening bachelor’s programs to all and enabling even those from the poorest of backgrounds to obtain a college education. I understand federal grants for PhD programs in the sciences.

      That’s where it stops for me. I see no reason besides university greed for professional education. Period. End of it.

      Why should taxpayers both subsidize and fuel the high cost of professional education? What’s in it for taxpayers? Pre-2007, there were lenders. Sometimes the price was high. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? Well, Funny Money, you say, this would shut out potential future good lawyers from the pool for economic reasons. Well, of course!

      But we do that with everything. We shut out potential great homeowners and neighbors from owning homes because of the cost of buying a home. Economics prevent many would-be great small businessmen from starting small businesses (undercapitalization is the number one cited reason that businesses fail).

      Why is law school different? And, here is another point, if someone lacks money but makes up for it in desire and drive, they can still sacrifice to make it in law! Will it be difficult? Hell yes. But anyone with a few grey hairs knows someone who succeed in law despite being dirt poor.

      Now, unless you are rich, you end up dirt poor. Actually less than dirt poor. You end up negative 200,000.

  13. Once and future biglaw litigator says:

    So I finished a successful job search a few months back. I’ve been out about a while, with a decent resume — good grades from a top school, AIII clerkship, elitish biglaw stint, then nonfederal-but-reasonably-close government. We had a surprise extra kid that drained our savings, so I wanted to try to go back to a biglaw job where I could replenish them.

    Anyway, I had a lot of conversations with hiring partners. Most of them said that they just flat-out won’t hire any entry-level attorneys from non-elite schools, except maybe for kids in the top few students at the local schools. The reason they gave me was that they just can’t be sure that anyone else isn’t an idiot. Even the kids with good-but-not-top grades from the local schools carry a significant risk of just not having the requisite intellectual firepower (they said). And with the particular legal market being what it is (this is a secondary market) they said that they can easily find bodies as needed by going on the lateral market — and by hiring people with several years of biglaw or government experience (plus good references from that time), they can be sure that the people they hire are smart enough to practice law (because they’ve been doing so).

    • Lasker says:

      When a clerkship that alone probably marks you as being in the top 5% of all law school grads is described as part of a “decent” resume, you know there’s a problem.

      • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

        I’m not 100% sure that a federal clerkship matters that much after the first few years (I’m roughly a decade out). More important is what you’ve done. Fortunately for me, I was in the government long enough to pick up a case list that’s relatively noteworthy (I’ve been lead at every level of the state and federal courts except SCOTUS, and I was on the signature block in a merits brief there).

        Anyway, though, the main takeaway should be that in this legal market, firms typically have the choice of hiring someone like me or someone right out of school, often for not that much more $$$ (I’ll only be making about 50% more than a new lawyer).

        • Lasker says:

          Point is, as it gets easier and easier to go to law school, the bar for actually becoming employed, much less employed in the kind of work people go to law school dreaming of getting, shifts farther down the line to clerkships, etc, which will never be available to a large number of students. But many students are still under the impression (because law schools work so hard to promote it) that admission to law school alone is a sufficient ticket. I was just pointing out to those who might not be familiar with what a clerkship means the way in which your story illustrated this.

          • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

            Sure. To put the same point a little differently, as the quality of new law grads becomes more and more sketchy, I think what you’re going to see is employers starting to rely even more heavily on indicia indicating intelligence and likely future competence. So only hiring grads from the tip top schools, or strongly preferencing experienced attorneys who have survived several years of practicing law.

            • Barry says:

              “So only hiring grads from the tip top schools, or strongly preferencing experienced attorneys who have survived several years of practicing law.”

              And that’s on top of the fact that in a glut, the existing response was to do just that.

    • brewmn says:

      “The reason they gave me was that they just can’t be sure that anyone else isn’t an idiot.”

      I’ve worked with biglaw lawyers for thirty years. The lack of self-awareness in that commment is chortle-worthy.

    • BoredJD says:

      This why any efforts by law schools to increase their employment rate through MORE PROGRAMS and MORE STAFF is naive at best. A hundred career services officers all paid the salary of the Harvard Career Services director won’t help students get jobs. Making every student spend their third year in an externship or take some classes about trial practice and negotiations isn’t going to help them for 2L OCI.

      Law schools can be a psuedoscientific exercise in mind-stretching at schools where 75% of the graduates get good jobs. At the rest, it should be a two-year nuisance on the road to sitting for the bar.

  14. cj says:

    Well, add to that the existence of non-ABA accredited law schools, where presumably a chunk of the otherwise inadmissible applicants can land… with even worse job prospects, if you can imagine that…

  15. Tracy Lightcap says:

    Like some of Paul’s posts here, this is assuming that some kind of fundamental shift in how the legal profession works has taken place.

    Wel,, maybe so. The problem = if there was a structural shift going on that leads to more unemployment for law grads, there would also be a shift going on that leads to galloping demand for professionals in some other area. But that isn’t what we are seeing. In fact, there’s a glut in professionals across the board. Go to any site run by folks in the medical/scientific fields and see what they are saying. (Hint: exactly the same thing: we are overproducing professional grads, it’s because of government subsidies, ect., ect.) I think the economists are right about this: what we have here is a depression and what we are seeing in professional employment is the result of it.

    Does that mean that such an employment catastrophe won’t lead to structural changes? Not a bit of it. It might, especially since the recovery is so slow that it might cement employment practices that will lead to a permanent shift in how lawyers work. But looking at these data don’t tell us much about that. And, as Paul has pointed out before, the rest of the extant analysis won’t either. Like Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

    • Barry says:

      “Does that mean that such an employment catastrophe won’t lead to structural changes? ”

      Please note that it has lead to structural changes. Firms are shedding partners at unprecedented[1] rates, new grads are no getting jobs at unprecedented rates.

      [1] Since the Great Depression.

      • Tracy Lightcap says:

        Which is exactly what you’d expect if the economic blow was as great as the one delivered by the Great Depression. And, of course, it was. The consequences haven’t been quite as bad because we have learned a little since 1929, but the downturn has been just as scary for employers. That’s why they are sitting on enormous funds and not investing.

        Whether these are structural changes is another matter. I see plenty of unwillingness to invest in new legal positions and plenty of pressure on less productive lawyers. But, again, that’s exactly what you’d expect and is exactly what you are seeing in professional service industries (and everything else, for that matter) across the board. But major changes in how the law is practiced? New and innovative schemes for how to deliver the product at lower costs? Aside from a few law school initiatives (Northwestern has been trying to get law firms on board with something like this for years), I don’t see much. And, I might add that both my wife and son (2010 grad) are practicing lawyers, so I’m actually pretty well wired to the profession.

        Still, like I said, Paul may be right. The longer we stumble along at ~8% unemployed with a lot of long termers, the more likely that we’ll see the changes become permanent. That would be a true disaster, not just for the legal profession, but for everyone.

  16. [...] * Law school in America moves toward an open admissions policy. Where are the accreditors? This is insane. [...]

  17. Randy says:

    Not to dispute the main point, but it’s worth noting that the likelihood that some people get a perfect score on the LSATs doesn’t mean that the test is too easy. A lot of people take the test, and a fair number of them are very smart and good at taking tests. Historically – although I don’t know if it’s true now – a “perfect” LSAT score didn’t mean you had every question right, anyway, since it was a normed test that more or less was graded on a curve.

    Also, tests like these are not intended to rank order all the people who take them, so there’s an expectation that there will be people clustered around every possible result.

    • Lasker says:

      Yes, I wanted to mention that too.

      It seems like what Prof Campos meant to say was that it is too easy to get the minimum score necessary to gain admission to law school. This is probably true, but has nothing to do with the test per se and certainly nothing to do with the top scores.

      Typically the 99.9% percentile of the LSAT is 178 – not a perfect score. Compare to the Math portion of the GRE, in which until recently about 15% of test takers achieved a perfect score.

      • Once and future biglaw litigator says:

        Yeah, until they changed it recently, there were a lot of math-heavy business and econ PhD programs who won’t take anyone who missed a GRE math question.

      • Paul Campos says:

        A perfect score on the LSAT is a 180, which represents the 99.97% percentile. Since more than 100,000 people take the test every year, you’re going to get around 30-35 180s. In recent years you’ve generally had to get either 99 or 100 out of 100 questions right to get a 180.

        • Randy says:

          That seems like a pretty reasonable number to me – one out of every 3,000, give or take, in a group that’s already meaningfully more selective than the population as a whole. If it were, oh, 1 percent of the total number of people taking the test, then I might feel differently.

          (And on the comment above about the math GRE, for many years a higher percentage of test takers got perfect scores on the old Math Level II Achievement Test than on Math Level I. Of course, that was driven in large part by who was taking each test.)

  18. dave says:

    It seems to me the simplest solution to this would be to pass universal IBR (20 year repayment) and then have the federal government bill the law schools for any unpaid principal discharged at the end of the 20 year period.

    How many schools could stay in business at their current tuition rates under such a law? 10?

    • Philip Arlington says:

      How would this stop the current tenured professors continuing to rake in the cash for twenty-three more years? Do you think they would they care if their school was likely to go bust after their retirement? They would probably see it as an opportunity to pull in more students on the grounds that this new regime has moved the finnancial odds in the young lawyers favour.

      This would only work if a law school was reliant on continuing issues of debt finance, and not many (any?) of them are.

  19. Nando says:

    Hell, starving animals are more selective in what they eat than the law school scammers are in their admi$$ion$ process. In the end, it is ALL about the money. Perhaps, the schools will soon “overlook” if an applicant has been committed to a mental hospital.

  20. SV Bob says:

    This is pathetic. The only people who benefit from the current situation is law deans and profs at the lower 140-150 law schools, and, marginally, parent universities and biglaw law firm partners. How many law profs are there? 2000-3000? Every year 25,000 people – maybe 30,000 – have their lives damaged and possibly ruined, after finishing law school, just so that about 2000 people can lead very comfortable lives.
    Somebody – the government, the ABA, or the upper 50, should just buy out the law profs at the lower schools. Either give them cash, retrain them for a different job, arrange a private sector job, hire them as legal writing instructors, or pay them to sit in a Rubber Room.

  21. mch says:

    One issue I am aware of through a newly minted attorney I know at a prominent corporate law firm, an issue not mentioned in the post or in comments here: outsourcing. She and a number of colleagues recently spent many months preparing documents for discovery, after the initial sorting of those documents had been done in … India. Some vast number of documents reduced to a mere 15,000, or some such.

    Was it always thus? Or did this firm once employ more fresh-faced, American-trained lawyers to do also the initial sorting? Or was the sorting merely a computer-trained persons’s task (e.g., sorting emails in the Petraeus-scandal style)?

    Not rhetorical questions — I am really curious whether outsourcing has reduced job opportunities in the US for attorneys.

    • (the other) Davis says:

      What did she mean by “sorting” here? A lot of modern document collection comes down to searching people’s hard drives for the appropriate file types and copying those files, but that’s properly IT work and not lawyer work—so no surprise if that’s outsourced.

      As for actual review, it’s not uncommon to have cheap contract attorneys do first-level relevance and privilege review when you’re sitting on a huge pile of documents—which is often the case with e-discovery, because people have so many damn emails, Word doc, Excel docs, etc. But outsourcing that to folks without American legal training seems like a fast track to sanctions as soon as any QC problems arise. (Outsourcing higher-level review for determining responsiveness to RFPs would be downright insane.)

  22. donny brasco says:

    The LSAT isn’t a hard test? First time I’ve ever heard anyone say that. And I got a 172

  23. [...] been easier. Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, reports on Lawyers, Guns & Money that the overall percentage of applicants admitted to law schools accredited by the American Bar [...]

  24. Loca says:

    Hi to everybody, here everyone is sharing such knowledge, so it’s fastidious to see this site, and I used to visit this blog daily.

  25. The blog was remarkable and the data you have shown here of the law students admitted over the past decade shows an increased rate, I like reading it.

  26. [...] To get some sense of what the latter stat signifies, consider that a decade ago, only 55.6% of all law school applicants were getting into any law school, and that only about two-thirds of LSAT takers even bothered to [...]

  27. […] decline in applicants has been even sharper — nearly 40% — as law schools have slashed their admission standards to keep enrollments from cratering […]

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