The Legal Beat
There’s A Run On Law School, With Applicants And Applications WAY Up
Posted on Wednesday November 18, 2020
This year has been full of surprises, but perhaps the biggest surprise of all — perhaps for those who weren’t paying attention — is the sudden interest people have in going to law school. Back in June, we that suggested that law schools should be prepared for another onslaught of law school applicants thanks to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, just like what happened with the recession. We’re now in the middle of November, and whaddaya know, law school applicants aren’t just up — they’re way up.
The total number of law school applicants is up 32 percent compared to this time last year, and the number of applications submitted thus far is up by almost 57 percent. According to the Law School Admission Council, applications are up at 194 of the 199 ABA-accredited law schools.
But there are tons of good reasons to be interested in law school right now, aside from applicants being socially distanced from their former social lives. We’re in the middle of a healthcare crisis, we’ve seen our nation divided by political strife, we’ve been involved in protests for the fight against racial injustice in America, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a legal hero who fought for women’s rights, tragically passed away.
“We are seeing a real surge in candidates taking the LSAT and applying. There are a lot of factors at work here. But we hear a lot of about motivation from [Ruth Bader Ginsburg]—the RBG moment,” said LSAC president Kellye Testy. “We’ve been saying our candidates have ‘really big goals.’ They are talking about racism, COVID, economic inequality, political polarization, and climate change. They are inspired to make a difference.”
And not for nothing, but the LSAT is much easier to take now given that it’s in an online format. Here’s more information on that from Karen Sloan at Law.com:
[T]he introduction of LSAT-Flex in May could also be disrupting normal application trends. The LSAT-Flex is shorter than the traditional LSAT and is given online, with people taking it at home or a location of their choosing. And the LSAT-Flex appears to be yielding higher scores. The number of applicants thus far with scores of 160 or higher is up nearly 44%. And the very highest score band—175 to 180—has more than doubled compared to this time last year.
The fact that the LSAT-Flex is shorter and can be taken at home may be a factor in those higher scores, given that takers are likely to encounter less fatigue and stress than the normal LSAT, which requires them to travel to testing centers, [Fordham Law assistant dean of enrollment Stephen] Brown said. But high scorers also tend to apply earlier in the cycle, [law school admissions consultant Mike] Spivey noted. Thus, they could be overrepresented at this point in the admissions cycle.
Jeff Thomas, Kaplan’s executive director of legal programs, says maybe we shouldn’t be so optimistic about these application numbers:
In a year when we’ve been desperate for some good news, it’s heartening to see that the increase in law school applicants is across the board, with almost every ABA-approved law school seeing a jump. And while there are reasons to be optimistic, we’d caution against premature exuberance. While many are speculating about an “RBG Effect,” which to be fair, could be a contributing factor, the increase we are seeing right now is more likely a simple result of timing.
Between last year’s LSAT transition to a digital format, which caused many aspiring attorneys to test later than they normally would, and this year’s COVID situation, which gave many test-takers the opportunity to test earlier than they normally would, we’re simply seeing students apply earlier in the cycle this year compared to last year.
Two data points worth considering:
- According to Law School Admission Council data, the number of first-time test-takers for this testing year, feeding into this new application cycle, is actually down 3 percent.
- This time last year, only 24 percent of the final applicant count for the incoming Fall 2020 class was in. We still have relatively small numbers in this year’s application pool to compare against.
In short, don’t get too excited about a boon in applicants just yet. Leading indicators suggest this is likely a timing shift. We will have a more definitive read in the new year, when we pass the midway point of the traditional application cycle.
While we’ll have to wait and see if these application numbers hold up for the remainder of the admissions cycle, we already know that 31,000 people have signed up to take the January, February, and April administrations of the LSAT. COVID-19 may have virtually decimated the legal profession, but it sure seems like the next generation is ready to get into action.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.