Fewer LSAT Takers and the Effect on Law Schools

To the dismay of many law school deans and admissions counselors, the numbers continue to show that fewer students are taking the LSAT. This year, 33,673 sat for the law school entrance exam, representing an 11% decline from the 37,780 who took the test last year. While this is slightly less than the 16% decline experienced in 2012, this contributes to an overall decline of 45% from 2009 when a record 60,746 sat for the exam.

This marks the fourth straight year of decline, which in a recent article Karen Sloan of the National Law Journal suggests has “intensified worries that a turnaround in the demand for legal education remains out of sight”. Whether that proves to be true remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that law schools are now being met with the reality of smaller student applicant pools. This in turn requires law school deans and other academic leaders to make difficult decisions regarding enrollment and the school’s overall profile.

Imagine the pressure and complex considerations facing law school leadership. To name a few:

  • Should we lower our overall admissions standards? Or reduce our class sizes?
  • If we lower our standards, how will it affect our rank and our students’ job prospects?
  • What are students’ job prospects given the current climate and how can we adapt?
  • If we reduce class sizes, how will we make up for the losses in tuition revenue?
  • As the landscape shifts, how can we keep our: professors? resources? reputation?

LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs are both key components of the all-important law school rankings. Thus, schools that elect to weaken admissions standards risk compromising their school’s overall profile and ranking, while schools that reduce class sizes will face difficult budget constraints. According to Sloan, “plenty of schools have done a bit of both.” It will be interesting to see which ways certain law schools lean as the legal landscape continues to shift. In the midst of all the uncertainty, one thing is clear: prospective students are increasingly wary of long-term job prospects in the legal industry.

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