Law Schools Are Enrolling 'At Risk' Students, Study Says

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 29, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's been a lot of attention paid to the falling pass rates of bar exam takers in the last few years. As fingers get pointed, the usual question is asked as to whether or not law schools are to blame. Are they admitting students who should not have been admitted?

Yes. At least that's the reasonable conclusion to infer from a new study by Law School Transparency.

LSAT and Bar Exam

The standard belief (though challenged by some) is that LSAT scores serve as a good predictor of whether or not a student will pass the state bar exam. So ingrained is this notion that there are online predictors that claim to give a prospective student her chances of success in law school. LSAC features one on its website.

With the arguable exception of California, average LSAT scores of admitted students generally will mirror the difficulty of that state's bar exam. However, according to the New York Times article piece, many in legal education consider 150 as a bright-line that exists between success and failure. Of course, there are competing opinions that reject this very staid belief.

Dubious Practices

The Law School Transparency Study shows that about a one third of the currently 204 accredited law schools in this nation admitted applicants into its incoming class that scored below 150 -- so called "at risk" students. This number has been steadily climbing in the last few years. In the meantime, almost all students are saddled with six-figure debt.


Data taken from the study seems to confirm that there is a direct correlation between the admission of "at risk" students and an increased failure rate of the state bar exam. But what is the cause? The most tempting answer is the 2008 depression. The dates seem to make sense, although no-one can say for sure.

Some have opined that graduating class of 2009-10 finally succumbed to the lackluster job market and flocked to law school en masse. Indeed, law school application numbers ballooned during that period. What followed immediately was a very discouraging slump in bar passage rates.

Of course, there's plenty of blame to be thrown around. A number of professors have even accused students of being of a lesser caliber than previous applicants. But if this is the argument by many schools, why do they continue to enroll? Money, of course. And the admission of less than stellar applicants seems to be only one of the tricks that schools are employing in order to stay alive.

Recent Changes

One theory that has enjoyed less press is the changing in the subject material of many bar exams. Many states, including California, have made a number of additions to the written portion of the exam including professional responsibility and agency law. Further, in the last two years, the Multistate Bar Exam has been changed to include Civil Procedure -- a previously untested section in the MBE.

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