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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Is the Law School Admissions Collapse Good for Lower-Ranking Schools?
One of the most interesting sides of the recent downturn in law school admissions has been the discussions it has generated. So many discussions. So much speculation. People are fascinated when high-ranking fields are rankled. They like to ponder all the reasons the mighty have fallen, and whether or not they'll be able to dust off their knees and get up again.
In the world of law school education, rankings are everything. I mean, everything. It's all about numbers and prestige. You can have mediocre undergraduate grades, but if you score high enough on the LSAT list, top schools start sending you personalized postcards. The top 14 schools even have their own nickname (T14), despite the fact that everyone knows how spurious ranking systems can be in the first place.
With the very real downturn in the legal job market, rankings have become more important than ever. Take junior associateships, for instance-these are the pre-graduation internships that serve as the pipeline for post-grad jobs. For students that want a shot at big-firm jobs, the advantages of a T14 school are palpable.
What's interesting is the fall-out. If fewer people are applying to law school, you'd think that would affect law schools at every tier. It isn't that simple. The T14 schools, by and large, have begun to admit fewer students, even if it means a reduction in their bottom line. Why? Because they don't want to skim the cream from the top of the lower tier schools, for fear of pushing down their own rankings. Oh yes, people talk about real-live law students like statistics.
The losses for lower tier schools may not be as distinct. Those schools typically have cheaper tuition, less overhead, and less to lose with a dip in the rankings. Which really begs the important question: has the law school admissions collapse meant that we are producing lower-quality attorneys? Isn't that what should really matter?
Since practicing attorneys all have to pass their own state bar exams, and since those exams have remain largely unchanged by the "collapse", the end result might be simple. Fewer attorneys, but not diminished quality.
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