One Group of Law School Applicants That’s Growing: High-Scoring Students

It’s not such a bad time to apply to Harvard Law after all.

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

When law school applications began collapsing a couple of years back, a troubling pattern emerged. Some of the biggest percentage drops were among elite applicants with high LSAT scores. The smallest declines, meanwhile, were among candidates with especially low LSAT scores—the aspiring J.D.s who were most likely to end up at diploma mills that leave scads of graduates unemployed. The higher-scoring students got the message that the job market was a mess. But the news wasn’t filtering down to the students most likely to get screwed by the system. As I wrote at the time, “The wrong people have stopped applying to law school.”

Since law school classes are still shrinking, I found myself wondering if the trend had changed at all. Judging from data provided to me by the Law School Admission Council, applications still aren’t falling nearly enough on the very low end of the LSAT range. Year-to-date, applicants scoring less than a 140 have ticked down less than one-tenth of a percentage point.

But here’s the most interesting bit: The number of top-tier applicants—those with at least a 170 on their LSAT—is growing again. These are students who can probably make it into one of the very few law programs where graduates never experienced significant underemployment. Their numbers are still well down from a few years ago but seem to have stabilized—they’re realizing that now really is a good time to go to law school (so long as you can get into a decent program).

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For those who are extra-obsessive about this topic, I’ve put together this chart showing the three-year changes to law school applications by LSAT band. Main takeaway: The declines we’ve seen in the past few years are going to hit middle-range schools the hardest unless they significantly lower their admissions standards.