The 2011-2012 LSAT Year Begins

I didn’t realize the June 2011 LSAT administration occurred a week ago. I await the numbers, but we can expect them to be depressed as they were last year due to widespread knowledge of the legal education system’s failures. Before the LSAC’s chart is updated though, it’s time to put the numbers in context, particularly because the LSAC doesn’t account for population growth. Take a look.

(Note that the LSAT year is that of the February test date’s. The Civilian Employment-Population Ratio (CE-PR) is the reading at the beginning of the calendar year.)

There are several interesting facts about this graph:

  • The peak LSAT year was 1991, followed by 1992, 1990, 1989, and then 2009. 2011 was similar to 2009, 2004-05, 1994, and 1988.
  • Oddly, the CE-PR and the number of LSAT takers tracked each other somewhat until 1992. The Pearson correlation coefficient is only -0.344.
  • As we’d expect, for the most part, LSAT takers grow along with unemployment. From 1992 to 2008, the Pearson correlation coefficient is a whopping -0.959.
  • Starting in 2009 the correlation breaks down. In 2009, the increase in LSAT takers doesn’t correspond as tightly to the CE-PR as before, even though tons of jobs were lost in 2008, and in 2011, as we know, the trend reverses with LSAT takers declining along with the employment rate. From 2009 to 2011, the correlation is -0.473.

Despite 2009-2010 being a peak LSAT year, the data may actually be hiding a “scamblogger effect” beginning at that time. This both is and is not surprising. On the one hand, we wouldn’t expect people to consider law school if they didn’t think there’d be any jobs; on the other hand, given the stagnant CE-PR and the fact that many prospective students can wholly finance legal education (and some living expenses) with loans eligible for income-based repayment, we can wonder if some 0Ls are pragmatically stalling for time as the economy improves (it’s not).

Bear in mind that with a CE-PR this low, the short-term opportunity cost of going to law school is almost negligible, contrary to the badly mutilated ROI calculation David Van Zandt came up with that the ABA as well as others frequently tout in its “Value Proposition of Attending Law School” document (omitted opportunity cost = $60,000 per year (HA!)). Herwig Schlunk’s vastly more accurate calculation uses salary numbers from Payscale.com that are around $30,000 per year, but I think as of 2011, the real opportunity cost of attending law school for today’s college graduates is lower than that because income gained by slaving away at the “McJobs” of 2011 is less than the living costs included in a Grad PLUS loan. I discourage anyone from going to law school just because IBR exists, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts happening.

Anyway, the 2012 LSAT year is on. Happy Summer.

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4 Responses

  1. I think your analysis is interesting, but it does not take into consideration the policy change of the ABA that allows schools to report only the highest LSAT and not the average per test-taker around 2004. This has probably resulted in massive increase in students taking the LSAT multiple times, and therefore overall LSATs administered.

    • I did not know about that rule change, for I took the LSAT in ’03. The LSAC does track repeater data, which I assumed didn’t change much. Here on page six (Figure 2), it shows that first-time takers steadily dropped by about 10% of the total over the last decade, and they stayed stable numerically as well. I’ll have to look into it.

  2. You have the most intelligent blog of this type. I wonder if you couldn’t find out how the “yield” is shaping up for law school admissions this year. That is, “yield” is the percentage of acceptees who actually enroll in the school. Generally, it doesn’t change much year to year, but I should think it would – and should – drop through the floor this year for all but the very top law schools. (Just showing a marginal drop in applications to a school won’t tell nearly as much.)
    I should think there would be blood on the floor this year.

    A Disinterested, but not Uninterested, Bystander

    • Thanks for the compliments Ben. There is a way to determine the yield that you describe. The LSAC website publishes the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, which contains pdfs for every law school’s applications submitted, acceptances offered, matriculations, and first-year enrollments. The 2012 edition should be published very soon, and I’ll use it to update the tuition tables on the site. The catch? The Official Guide is two years out of date regarding enrollment data, so one could calculate the enrollment yield from the 2009-2010 school year and going backwards. The other problem is that law schools have never had a shortage of applicants, though I’ve read elsewhere that for many schools the number of applications has dropped by more than a dozen percent. Some law schools (Albany and Touro come to mind) have even announced they’re reducing enrollments by 10 or so as a recognition of market conditions.

      Just as two examples, in 2008-2009, Thomas Jefferson’s yield was 25.8%, Harvard’s, 67.1%. Interesting idea.

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