Why every law school applicant should use ABA 509 reports

By Rachel Margiewicz

Information is power, and the more you have in the law school application process the better decisions you’ll be able to make. Savvy law school applicants may already be familiar with the American Bar Association (ABA) 509 Required Disclosures (509 reports). If you haven’t heard of these reports or aren’t regularly using them in your law school research, you need to start! 

In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about 509 reports, how to interpret the data, and why it’s important to use them when deciding where to go to law school.

What are ABA 509 reports?

The ABA 509 reports are part of the required enrollment disclosures accredited law schools must make to the ABA. Law schools directly submit this data to the ABA in the fall, after their most recent incoming class is solidified, allowing last-minute additions or departures to the class to be accounted for.

The reports provide intimate details of many crucial aspects of the law school admission process. This includes, among other useful information, the number of students who received grants or scholarships and in what amounts, a breakdown of ethnicity and gender for each class, and the GPA and LSAT 25/50/75 percentiles for both full and part-time programs.

This information is all made public at the end of each calendar year, allowing applicants to use this it to guide their application decisions. Information dating back to 2011 is made available.

How to find the reports

The public 509 reports are available on the ABA’s website. First, go to the ABA Required Disclosure’s website which can be found at: http://www.abarequireddisclosures.org/Disclosure509.aspx

Then, select a year and a law school from the dropdown section. Always start with the most recent information available and then work your way backward through the reports. The most recent year or two of reporting will prove to be the most insightful.

Hit “Generate Report” and a PDF report will download to your computer.  While reading the remainder of this post, we suggest you follow along by reviewing an actual 509 report from the ABA website.

How to read the reports and what to focus on

Reading and understanding the reports are often two different things. To start, let’s focus on how to read the reports and the sections that are most important for applicants to know about. 

Sections to focus on (in order of importance for most applicants):

First Year Class

- This is the top right section of the report and includes most of the admissions data. For that reason, this should be one of the sections that applicants focus the most on.'

- This section of the 509 report details the acceptance rate, signaling to you how competitive the application process may be. The lower the rate, the more competitive it is to get in. Additionally, you can see the enrollment rate, which indicates of the number of students who actually enrolled out of the total number admitted. Usually the enrollment rate will be higher, since schools admit applicants they expect to enroll in their program.

- This section also details first-year class totals for LSAT and GPA broken down into 25/50/75 percentiles in both the part-time and full-time programs. This information is usually easily accessible on the law school’s website but is helpful for you to understand how competitive your application may be in comparison to these numbers. (Note: this is information based off applicants who actually enrolled and not simply on those that applied.)

- If you are a part-time applicant, it’s incredibly important that you review these statistics. Most of median statistics advertised include all of the school’s programs. Since most of the student population is in the full-time program, the published statistics may skew much further toward the that program and away from the specific data you are interested in.

- If you are a full-time applicant, review the numbers for the full-time program to see how competitive you may be against those that are applying to the same program. This is how an admissions decision will ultimately be made. It doesn’t matter how competitive a full-time applicant may be against a part-time applicant since they are essentially two different pools of candidates. (Part-time applicants being competitive with the full-time statistics is more important than the inverse.)

- If you are applying with a GRE score, pay attention to the section of this chart that says “# not included in LSAT calculations.” This includes the applicants admitted with a GRE score, but may also include other groups of students admitted without an LSAT score. An increase in this number from year to year may indicate that the school is accepting more students with the GRE. To learn more about the GRE, check out our article on the new role of the GRE in law school admissions.

- If you’re an international applicant with a non-US/Canada undergraduate degree, those statistics will fall into the category “# not included in the UGPA calculations.”

 Grants and Scholarships

- This section details the raw number of students who received a grant or scholarship, the percentage of students offered a specific amount, the program they were in (full- or part-time), the amount covered (full tuition, full to half tuition, half tuition, or less than half tuition), and the rough estimate of money awarded based on the 25/50/75 percentiles.

- For all applicants, this is important to understand a school’s scholarship structure and relatedly, your chances of earning a scholarship and the amount you may receive.

-This is also useful information to know when negotiating your scholarship offers and contextualizing whether you received a competitive offer.

- If you are a part-time applicant, this information is critical in determining your chances of earning a scholarship or grant from a school. Most funding is diverted to full-time candidates and for this reason, it can be hard to truly understand what is available to you as a part-time applicant.

- Note that need-based aid is not included in this chart.

Conditional Scholarships

- I’d argue this is one of the most useful sections on the entire ABA 509 report because it lays out information that you can’t readily find elsewhere on a school’s website.

- This section should be read after the Grants and Scholarships section above to help better understand the data and the type of award you may be offered.

- Conditional scholarships are just that, conditional. Usually the condition to maintaining the award is based on earning a specific GPA or your class standing at the end of the year.

- If a school offers conditional scholarships, then a chart will appear with data on the number of students entering with a scholarship and the number of scholarships that were reduced or eliminated the following year.

- If a school doesn’t offer conditional scholarships, then it will say as much.

- Your scholarship is only as good as the conditions attached to it, so take time to read and understand this section of data. If everyone receives a 1L scholarship but most are reduced or eliminated in 2L year, then that initial scholarship may not be what you thought.

- Understand the retention rate of students carrying their scholarships with them from year to year so you can set your expectations accordingly and make a more informed decision of where to attend.

- If a high number of scholarships are eliminated each year, it may also contribute to increased competition and thus a more competitive culture amongst the student body.

 Other sections to review (in order of importance for most applicants)

 Academic Attrition

-Hopefully this chart will be filled mostly with zeros for your intended school but that doesn’t mean this section can be ignored.

- Academic attrition essentially refers to students who discontinued their legal education and were not in good standing with the law school (i.e., students who failed out).

- Y ou should really only be concerned if this table has high numbers in it (more than 1–2% of the student body). That may indicate that the school is admitting students who cannot succeed in their program and/or not providing students with the tools they need to succeed.-Again, for most schools this is a non-issue. However, when it is an issue, it’s a big issue so pay close attention to this data.

Why ev1L Tuition and Fees

- This section breaks down full- and part-time student tuition, as well as resident and non-resident tuition, based on the cost per credit and per semester.

- This chart is not as important to seek out when reading the 509 reports compared to the others listed above because the cost of tuition is something you likely already know and are made well aware of when researching any school.

- However, it is important to note here the fees charged! Sometimes fees can be a hidden, substantial cost that students don’t expect. Tuition figures are easily accessible, but fees associated with enrolling may not be.

- Note that fees do not include books!

Living Expenses

- So many candidates focus on tuition alone, but the cost of attendance is an equally important figure to pay attention to. The biggest contributor in your cost of attendance equation will be your living expenses.

- This section details the estimate to live on-campus, off-campus, and at home. Different students may have different standards of living so know that this is a reasonable estimate and not an exact number that will meet everyone’s standards and expectations.

- Note that this does not include other elements in the cost of attendance calculation such as food, insurance, transportation, books, etc.

J.D. Enrollment

-  J.D. Enrollment details the racial and gender breakdown of the incoming class. When reading this chart, know that “T” means total, “W” means women, “M” means male, “O” means other. All of these statistics are self-reported by the applicant.-This section can help applicants better understand the diversity and inclusivity of each class.

Curricular Offerings

- This section includes information on class size for first-year sections, clinic opportunities, and externship positions (this is titled “field placement positions”), among other things.

- This section better helps you understand the school’s academic offerings and how accessible or competitive they may be. However, I suggest going directly to the school’s website to learn more about experiential learning opportunities and course offerings since there’s little detail provided here beyond the number of students involved.

Transfers

- This chart denotes the number of students transferring into a school, what their 1L GPAs were, and the number of students transferring out.

- If you want to transfer into a school, it is helpful to know how many transfers a school typically accepts each year. You won’t know the total number of transfer applications, but it’s still a good guidepost for how open and accommodating a school may be to transfer students. This chart also gives data on the incoming 25/50/75 GPAs so that you know what a realistic 1L GPA is for acceptance.

- If you’re hoping to transfer out of a school, this gives the raw numbers of students who left. This information is less helpful because students could be transferring for a variety of reasons, outside of academics alone.

- If you’re considering transferring law schools, be sure to first read our post Five Things to Consider Before Transferring Law Schools.

 Academic Calendar

- This denotes when students start the program and graduate with their degree.

- If a school does an early or summer start program, this would be indicated here. The traditional start is in August or September. Nontraditional programs may start in January or May. 

- The type of term is also denoted here. The most common are semesters but some schools may run on trimesters or quarters.

There are still other sections of data available on the report that you may be interested in but are not covered in this post. Those include: The Basics, Faculty Resources, J.D. Degrees Awarded, and Other Attrition.

Understanding the data

It’s important to remember that this is a report filled with data and data alone. There is no context provided. It’s easier to read the ABA report than to understand it. As an applicant, you should be sure to read and review the reports, but to also seek out more information from law school admissions professionals to better understand the context of the data.

There may be reasons for shifts in any particular data set that could be due to, for example, a change in a school’s admissions policy, a law school’s renewed short- and long-term goals, or a shift in response to the law school application landscape at the time.

In the above section, I tried to highlight why each of these sections is important but be sure to always ask the law school to clarify any questions you have about this data and what it means.

Other reports to be aware of

On the ABA’s website, where you access the 509 reports, you can also see other reports on the left-hand side of the page. These include Employment Outcomes and Bar Passage Outcomes. These other two reports do provide insightful information that you can review as an applicant to better understand the bar passage and employment outcomes of schools.

Though we won’t be covering either of these other reports in great detail, here a few notes to help you better understand each.

Employment Outcomes

On the Employment Outcomes report, law school applicants will want to focus on a school’s full-time, long-term bar passage and J.D. Advantage positions. These are the gold standard positions that most students are seeking after they graduate law school and pass the bar exam. You do not want to see an inflated number that includes nonlegal jobs or part-time positions.

Note that this information is about 1-1.5 years delayed because it tracks where students are about 10 months after graduation. (So, at the time this article was written in early May 2020, the most recent information available is from 2018. The 2020 graduates have only recently graduated and not yet taken the bar exam. The 2019 graduate data is currently being compiled based off a March 15, 2020 submission deadline.)

Bar Passage Outcomes

For the Bar Passage Outcomes report, law school applicants should focus on the overall pass rate for that school and see how that compares to the state passage rate for ABA-approved schools. This will help you understand how that school’s students fare compared to other schools.

Know that the overall passage rate includes repeat takers. Statistically, repeat takers tend to have a lower pass rate than first-time takers so that overall pass rate may be deflated due to repeat takers. Focus on the second chart on the page titled “First Time Bar Passage” to better understand how well first-time bar takers perform. If the number of students not taking the exam after graduation seems high or the pass rates are low, you should ask a school about this. Inquire into the bar support services they provide and how students prepare for the exam throughout their law school program.

In conclusion, the ABA 509 reports are able to synthesize and concentrate a lot of data critical to your law school research. Though many of this can be found easily on school’s website, other data sets (such as conditional scholarships or academic attrition) cannot. For that reason, and many others, the ABA 509 reports are a useful one-stop shop for all the data needed to jumpstart your law school research and better inform your admissions decisions.


Rachel Margiewicz is the director of Prelaw Services with JD Advising, a law school and bar exam preparation company offering services ranging from LSAT tutoring and application assistance to bar exam tutoring, courses, and seminars. She is a licensed attorney who spent five years working in law school admissions, successfully coaching applicants through the admissions process.

You can follow her and the JD Advising team on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn. Additional resources, including daily blog posts, are available at www.jdadvising.com.


 

 

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