The number of law school applicants has dropped for the upcoming academic year, according to new data released by the Law School Admission Council.
The numbers, as of June 2, show that American Bar Association-accredited law schools received 343,395 applications from 52,853 applicants for the 2017-18 school year. Compared with last year, applications are up 1.4 percent, but the actual number of applicants dropped 0.5 percent.
Those totals are coupled with increasingly mediocre performance by prospective law school students taking the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT.
The number of law school applicants who scored more than 160 on the LSAT has gone down 35 percent since 2010, according to Paul Caron, dean of Pepperdine University School of Law and editor of TaxProf Blog. Inversely, the number of law school applicants with LSAT scores lower than 150 has gone up 146 percent since 2010.
“It’s not a great thing for the profession or for law schools when the best and the brightest are not going to law schools in the same proportion that they have gone in the past,” Caron said in an interview Monday. He said that it’s not a surprise that if LSAT scores are down, three years later, students are having a harder time passing the bar.
“It’s not a ringing endorsement for the profession,” he said.
The chain reaction Caron noted is backed by statewide data in California.
Students who took the bar exam in the state in February 2017 survived the test with only a 34.5 percent passing rate. That is the lowest passage rate for the spring bar exam in eight years.
And the recent summer exam pass rate in California for test-takers in July 2016, was similarly low, hitting a 32-year bottom of 43 percent.
The LSAT is facing other challenges, too, like having its legitimacy openly called into question by schools that are accepting the Graduate Record Exam in lieu of the LSAT for students applying to law school. In March, Harvard Law School became the second school to do this, following the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.
The decreased applicant rate also belies earlier suggestions that Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency would spur civic-minded individuals to become attorneys. The National Law Journal reported in March that some admissions officials believe Trump’s election may be contributing to growing interest in law school.
Caron said it is up to law schools and lawyers to make the legal profession appealing to millennials. He said there are valid criticisms of both the LSAT and the bar exam, but that focusing only on tests ignores the other side of the problem.
“There’s been a decline in the top student coming to law school,” he said. “The data is irrefutable there.”
Contact David Ruiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.