Law school faculty don’t generally pay much attention the the ABA Journal, the official organ of the profession whose future members we’re ostensibly training. But two stories in today’s weekly email version are likely to get at least some notice. The bad news: Law School Applicants Drop by More Than 15 Percent; Are Tuition Cuts Ahead? The good news, at least for lower-tier law schools that don’t have outrageously high cost structures: Are Smartest People Avoiding Law School? Stats Show Bigger Drop in High LSAT Applicants.
In other words, fewer people are taking the LSAT, and of those who do the biggest decline is at the high end. Demand from lower-scoring applicants is surprisingly strong, down only 4 percent, compared to 15 percent for the rocket-scientist types. If you’re a marketing executive, you might get an inkling of where I’m going with this, but then you probably aren’t reading this. If you’re a law professor, you’ve already concluded I’m clinically insane.
But it is good–at least potentially so–because every problem that your competitors face is an opportunity you might take advantage of. About 199 of the 200 ABA-accredited law schools, abetted by the relentlessly credential-mad AALS, are locked in deadly zero-sum pursuit of high LSAT scores. They are committing more and more resources (as Wm. & Mary’s Gene Nichol notes in a recent speech I’ll blog about in a couple of days) to the pursuit of these students. And the number of those students is dwindling. If we assume that that these schools will fight desperately to keep their median LSATs high, and there will be fewer of these precious resources, it follows that competition for these students will increase–they will pay less for their tuition. If we further assume that schools will not cut class sizes (elite schools mostly won’t, and mid-range schools mostly can’t) and that somebody is going to have to pay for these extra dollars thrown at high-LSAT scores, it further follows that either law professors will have to make less money, or students in the bottom (non-scholarship) half of the class are going to have to pay more. The first of these last two options is not on the table.
From the point of view of the average lower-LSAT student, this means that they will be paying even more so that their free-riding high-LSAT counterparts can get those coveted Big Law jobs. Most law students these days–even those whose LSATs don’t break 170–are coming to realize that this is not a game they want to play.
Hence the opportunity. There are vast numbers of 153s and 150s out there (these are more or less average LSAT scores at 4th tier schools) who are perfectly capable of becoming very competent lawyers. There are also vast numbers of prospective clients out there who could desperately use their help, if they did not have to charge fees high enough to cover $200K in student debt. Yet hardly anyone seems to want to compete for these students. Most schools view them as filler–students whose only real institutional role is paying to support other students whom the school really wants to attract.
The law school that can figure out how to cut its costs, reduce its prices, and increase the services it can offer to those humble, hard-working 152s, is going to find itself a big winner when the Apocalypse arrives. The sweet spot in the future is to be the school that the unwanted really want to attend. There are a lot more of them, and their money is just as good as anyone else’s.
Whether any given school will have nerve enough to endure the scorn that comes from falling LSAT scores is another question.