In the early 2000s, the real estate industry was booming and money was cheap and easy. In some cases, a prospective buyer could even qualify for a “no doc loan” without giving proof of stable employment. During these boom years the mortgage brokers joked (as they raked in their commissions and led us to a housing bubble) that a buyer only had to pass the mirror test: if they stuck a mirror in your face and you could fog it up, then you would get the mortgage. And now it looks like the mirror test has jumped industries and made its way to law school admissions offices across the country.
Law schools have suffered a dramatic and steady decline in law school applicants over the last few years, and it’s only getting worse. That’s good news for nearly everyone, including would-be law students, existing law students, practicing lawyers, and the taxpayers who ultimately pickup the tab for student loan debt when the newly minted lawyers can’t find sufficient work. But it’s not good news for everyone. Specifically, the law school industrial complex suffers when its cash flow shrinks along with the incoming class. So in response to this dramatic enrollment decline, many schools have significantly lowered their admissions standards to keep revenue up. Law professor Paul Campos puts it this way:
Some bottom tier schools now have something like open admission standards already, accepting just about anybody with an undergrad degree and an LSAT score, while perhaps making exceptions for people with the sorts of personal histories that would subject the school to tort liability if the admit were to harm fellow students or law school employees.
A great example of this is
. Not only can virtually anyone get in—the school ranks 197th out of 202 law schools in selectivity—but if you have a 2.0
GPA and a 140 LSAT, they’ll even give you a partial scholarship. To put it in context, a 140 LSAT means you
scored in about the bottom 13 percent of all test takers, including those who
barely graduated or fail to graduate from college, those for whom English is a foreign language (a huge disadvantage when taking the LSAT), and even those who couldn’t stay sober long enough to study for the test. Thomas Jefferson
But as nice as that partial tuition scholarship from T-Jeff Law might seem to the applicant (he or she will still have to pay $43,000 per year in tuition alone), there is a serious problem with admitting nearly everyone who applies to law school: law schools produce our eventual judges. And I have written dozens of posts demonstrating that many judges—nearly all of whom went to law school when schools were much more selective than they are today—can’t grasp even the most basic legal concepts. (See, most recently, here, here, here, here, and here.) And now, with law school standards slipping fast, the future of our judiciary doesn’t look bright.
All of this assumes, of course, that college grades and LSAT scores are correlated with law school performance. This is assumption is probably true. If for no other reason, it probably takes at least some organizing skills and a decent work ethic to get a good GPA. And it definitely takes some clear, logical thinking to do well on the LSAT. And organizing skills, hard work, and logical thinking are fairly useful in most endeavors—even in law school.
All of this also assumes that law school performance is correlated with performance as a lawyer or judge. And this assumption had better be true. If it’s not, then the law school industrial complex has an even bigger problem than its declining enrollment.
Either way, it’s not good news.