The last few years have been tough for higher education, and no sector has been harder hit that law schools. Since 2010 the number of students taking the LSAT — the test that most law schools use as an admissions tool — has plummeted, and the number of new students entering law school has plunged to the lowest level since 1973. That’s a problem, because there are 53 more law schools now than there were when Watergate was front page news, and they all want to fill their classes with tuition-paying students.
So, a larger pool of law schools is grappling with a shrinking pool of applicants. What to do? Well, you could take students with lower LSAT scores and college GPAs and accept more applicants — but then you’d get a lower ranking in the publications that try to rank law schools, like U.S. News and World Report. That would be bad, because a lower ranking might mean that fewer students will want to apply to your law school in the first place and fewer potential employers looking for elite candidates will be interested in interviewing your graduates.
The result of this quandary apparently is law schools that are trying to game the system. The idea is to maintain high standards for applicants for berths in their first-year classes, but then throw open the doors to transfer students to fill out larger second-year and third-year classes. Indeed, American University Law School in Washington, D.C. has seen so many of its students transfer to George Washington University Law School, also in D.C., that a law professor at American wrote a Facebook post accusing GWU of “raiding” American and actively trying to game the rankings, because only the credentials of GWU’s incoming first-year students are reported to the ranking entities.
In the rarefied and genteel world of law schools, such accusations are unusual, and the notion of law schools fighting for students is a bit unseemly. But tuition payments are the lifeblood of law schools, and in some instances schools are fighting for survival. When your very existence is at stake, the white gloves come off.