The rebound in law school applicants that the legal academy has long hoped for looks like it’s finally arrived.
The number of people who have applied to law schools nationwide this application cycle has increased more than 8 percent over last year, according to new figures from the Law School Admission Council. Perhaps even more importantly, the number of applicants with high scores on the Law School Admission Test has surged.
The council reported this week that the number of applicants with LSAT scores of 160 or higher is up by 2,804, or 21 percent, over this time last year. (LSAT scores range from a high of 180 to a low of 120.) The very highest score band reported by the council, 175 to 180, saw the single largest increase, at 70 percent. However, those high scorers represent the smallest cohort of law applicants. Thus far, 682 people with those high scores have applied, up from 401 at this point last year. Conversely, the number of applicants with LSAT scores of 144 or below declined slightly.
“I know this is good news for all of us who had become concerned that some very talented students were choosing not to pursue legal education,” wrote council president Kellye Testy in a message to law school admissions personnel Thursday.
The applicant total is likely to tick up slightly before the current admission cycle closes. Testy noted that schools had received 85 percent of all applications by early April last year, meaning a few stragglers are still expected to apply for admission in the fall. (Application deadlines have passed for the elite law schools, while many lower-ranked schools continue to accept applications into the summer.)
The 2018 admission cycle is looking to be the first since 2010 to post a significant increase, which lends credence to the idea that the Trump administration and mounting political discord are prompting more people to consider pursuing law. Modest improvements in the entry-level legal job market—due largely to the recent decline in the number of newly minted lawyers—may also be playing a role in the resurging interest in law school.
In an interview Friday, Testy said she has observed a renewed sense of respect for the law in her recent conversations with perspective law students.
“What candidates have said to me is, ‘For awhile, I thought going into tech was the way to go, but I don’t want to spend my life making gadgets. I want to do good,’” she said.
The number of applicants nationwide has fallen each since 2011, with the exception of a small 1.5 percent uptick last year.
The increase in high scorers is a particularly welcome development, as legal educators have worried that the dearth of high scorers has led some schools to admit students whose low LSAT scores indicate they may struggle to graduate and pass the bar. For example, Erica Moeser, the former president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, attributed declining bar pass rates in recent years to law schools admitting students with lower academic credentials.
Despite the apparent resurgence in applicants this year, legal education is still a long way from its admissions heyday. The current cycle is on track to see more than 59,000 applicants nationwide. That would be roughly on par with the size of the applicant pool in 2013, and far smaller than the 87,900 who applied in 2010.
Testy said she is cautiously optimistic that 2018 represents to the start of a long-term recovery in law school applicants, though she clarified that she does not expect applicant numbers to reach 2010’s high-water mark.