Yesterday’s Bloomberg Business article leads with a startling headline: The Smartest People Are Opting Out of Law School. It seems that while law school matriculation numbers have been declining, in addition, far fewer people with high LSAT scores have been deciding to enroll in law school at all. So while the total number of new students continues to decrease, the proportion of lower-LSAT-scoring students is actually increasing.
Leaving aside the temptation to question the validity of the LSAT for predicting whether someone can or will become an effective lawyer, the test is among the best predictors of how well students do in their first year of law school and how likely they are to pass the bar. Among other things, if students with lower LSAT scores are increasingly going to law school, but not able to succeed, perhaps admissions standards should be tightened as a matter of ethics and integrity. Why string along students whom we can predict will have difficulty achieving mandatory milestones like bar passage? An honest response would include the obvious conflict of interest – law schools need students in order to survive. But society continues to need well-educated lawyers too.
The ongoing effort to improve legal education needs to explicitly embrace students who don’t tend to do particularly well on high-stakes tests like the LSAT, first-year law school exams, or the bar. Even schools who have long administered healthy academic assistance programs may need to consider whether changes should be made. The facts cited in this article could spur faculty to hold discussions about building a curriculum for the students we have – not the students we used to have, or the students we wished we had. By re-envisioning both teaching methods and programmatic structures, schools can both adapt to changing conditions and help students learn and perform well. Re-focusing a program of legal education to teach the students who are there, not the students who might have attended a decade ago, could invigorate the profession, opening doors that allow less-privileged, more diverse, and otherwise nontraditional students to succeed and excel.
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