Drop in law school applications higher among students from more elite schools

Graduates from more prestigious colleges and universities are avoiding law school at a greater rate than graduates from less elite institutions, according to a recent study by Jerry Organ, law professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Data shows that the number of law school applicants from the 240 universities that provide the most applicants to law school, fell by nearly 23 percent from 2010 to 2012. These schools composed nearly 63 percent of law school applicants.

Organ found that the traditionally more highly regarded colleges and universities saw a sharper decrease in law school applicants than other institutions. Among the feeder schools with law schools ranked between one and 50 by the U.S. News and World Report rankings, the average percentage decline in applicants between 2010 and 2012 was about 28 percent. Feeder schools with law schools ranked between 51 and 100 saw a 20 percent decline in applicants, while those with law schools ranked between 100 and 146 saw only an 18 percent decline.

“To me, it is significant or important to recognize that over the last two years graduates of more elite colleges and universities generally are avoiding law school at a greater rate than graduates of less elite colleges and universities,” Organ said.

Organ explained his analysis in a two-part blog post entitled “Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students.” In his posts he analyzed both the decline of feeder school applicants, and the trends in LSAT profiles of applicants and matriculants.

“My hypothesis going into Part Two was that the greater decline in applicants among elite colleges and universities than among less elite colleges and universities would correspond with a decline in the LSAT profile of applicants and matriculants on the theory that graduates of more elite colleges and universities are more likely to have stronger LSAT profiles than graduates of less elite colleges and universities,” Organ said. “Part Two showed this hypothesis to be accurate.”

According to Organ’s second analysis, there is a shift in LSAT profiles with fewer students matriculating with very high LSAT scores, which he classifies as 165 and above, and more students with relatively low LSAT scores matriculating, classified as less than 150.

Organ found that the number of matriculants with LSAT scores of 165 or above decreased by more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012. Meanwhile, matriculants with LSAT scores of less than 150 increased by roughly 13 percent.

“At one level, every law school is impacted,” Organ said “The declining applicant pool and declining LSAT profile means even highly-ranked schools are having to dig deeper in the pool to fill their classes. Some top-25 schools are seeing a decline in the LSAT median for their first-year class profile this fall. But this has a ripple effect across all lower-ranked law schools who are losing the top students in their classes to more highly ranked law schools.”

Organ added that the shifting LSAT profile could have an impact on future bar passage rates and as well as other effects.

“I just want people to be aware of the changes taking place in the students coming to law school so that people have a broader context for understanding some of the changes they are seeing in the student body at their law schools,” he said. 

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