LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: February 2018 Edition

The February 2018 LSAT administration marks the sixth in a row that has seen an increase in the number of test takers. This time, 24,335 people (+13.7 percent) took the exam, according to the LSAC. Here’s a chart of LSAT administrations going back to the late 1990s.

The four-period moving sum of LSATs, equivalent to the year-over-year change in the 2017-18 LSAT year, rose to 129,183 (+2.3 percent). The last time it was this high was June 2012 (128,336).

Although the effect of the 13.7 percent bump in February LSATs is muted by the overall low number of test takers, it’s still a large effect in itself. Every administration in the 2017-18 cycle has seen at least 10 percent growth over the previous year, which hasn’t happened since the 2009 calendar year or the 2001-02 LSAT year.

After the December LSAT, I discussed an earlier prediction that the Trump bump would diminish over this year. I think it’s still too soon to tell, and we may have another 10 percent jump in June. However, the Trump stuff is a one-time event and can’t really mark a sustained change in the future of the legal profession or the overall economy. The fundamentals haven’t changed.

For historical note, last year I remarked that there was no evidence of a Trump surge, but I did discuss how more people were sitting for the LSAT despite fewer people applying. I suggested that test takers were behaving more strategically than before. Consequently, it will be interesting to see where the higher number of applicants ultimately apply, particularly because law schools are still closing.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: December 2017 Edition

The number of December LSAT takers rose to 40,096 (+27.9 percent) from 31,340 last year. It is the sixth administration in a row to show positive test-taker growth. Here is what it looks like in perspective.

This is quite the acceleration, one of the fastest ever.

The four-period moving sum, which is identical to the calendar-year total, rose to 126,248 (+7.5 percent). Comparable administrations are September/October 2009 (+6.5 percent), September/October 2001 (+7.9 percent, the record), and December 1988 (+7.0 percent). The last time the four-period moving sum was this high was June 2012 (128,336).

Two months ago I (idly) predicted this surge would diminish over the next year. That doesn’t appear to be where the trend is heading. Disturbingly, two of the aforementioned comparison administrations, fall 2009 and fall 2001, were recession periods, which indicates the kind of moment LSATs are in. I’ll repeat the same points for as long as this phenomenon continues: There is no reason to believe the legal profession will have more jobs compared to the rate of LSAT growth. Most of these potential applicants—let’s call them Sessions’ 0Ls—are badly misguided.

Since we’re on the topic of LSAC data, as of week 3, 2018, the number of applicants for this fall stands at 29,287. Week 3 was roughly the halfway mark for last year, so we may have about 61,000 applicants by August. This final applicant count has been falling in recent weeks, which I think is typical.

More tea leaves to read after February.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: September/October 2017 Edition

37,146 people sat for the September/October 2017 administration of the LSAT, up 10.7 percent from last year (27,606). Here’s what it looks like in perspective.

The four-period moving sum of LSATs rose by 3.1 percent to 117,492, a full percentage point down from the June administration (these kinds of comparisons are where the four-period moving sum is useful). The last time it was this high was December 2012 (115,348).

As before the renewed interest in law is almost certainly due to 0Ls’ belief that they can fight the good fight against CSA Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s cruelties to minorities. Maybe, though, this blip will diminish into next year, depending on where the politics go. It’ll be interesting to see where these 0Ls ultimately apply. Presumably, the more idealistic they are, the more likely they are to apply to unheralded law schools. With any luck, they’ll be more pragmatic given that Indiana Tech and Charlotte are gone, Whittier no longer accepts applicants, and who knows how many are going to be destroyed by category 5 hurricanes?

I hope these 0Ls realize what kind of legal profession they’ll get into a few years from now. There’s quite a lag between taking the LSAT and being sworn in. The politics of today might not be the same as tomorrow (please don’t let them get worse). I’m just saying, fighting vile executive orders sounds a whole lot more exciting than processing people’s immigration forms. Not everyone gets to practice law as they like.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: June 2017 Edition

For those of you who were as curious as I about whether a secular trend in law-school interest was causing the uptick in LSATs, well, too bad! Count me in on the bandwagon attributing it to His Emolumence’s perfidy. I try to caution against reading the minds of potential law-school applicants, but what other explanation is there? In June 2017, 27,606 people took the LSAT, up an amazing 19.8 percent from a year ago (23,051).

The four-period moving sum rose by 4.2 percent to 113,909, a record not seen since December 2012 (115,348). To put these numbers in context, the last time there were this many June LSAT-takers was June 2010 (32,973). You know, back when I first joined the crowed warning people that law school was usually a bad idea. In fact, the year-over-year growth rate is the highest going all the way back to 1988—the second year for which the LSAC reliably publishes LSAT-administration information. The 4.2-percent growth rate for the moving sum is comparable to December (4.1 percent) and September/October (6.5 percent) 2009 . If I had seen the June 2017 LSAT without knowing anything else, I’d’ve thought the economy was in a recession (or L.A. Law came on the air, which is what some claim caused the ’80s surge).

I note three more items. One, the LSAC sure released this information a lot more quickly than last year, when it took until August to tell us about the June LSAT results. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was happy to discuss good news…

Two, I acknowledge that the 19.8-percent LSAT jolt was leaked last week. Uh-huh. That’s consistent with the times…

Three, if the political cause for the renewed enthusiasm is true, then bless these LSAT-takers idealistic hearts. However, next to nothing has changed in the U.S. or legal economies since Inauguration Day to warrant a more optimistic outlook on the legal profession (unless you’re defending His Emolumence and his family, in which case, you’re probably teetering in the character-and-fitness department). Meanwhile, going by my predictions from earlier this year, it appears Congress is going nowhere, so don’t expect much reform of Grad PLUS loans. Instead, maybe Betsy DeVos will whip up yet another income-directed repayment plan. Or maybe she’ll get high on Ben Carson’s glyconutrients stash.

Final word: I can’t imagine the renewed interest in law school lasting as long as our dear leader’s tenure in office, but it may be a while yet.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: February 2017 Edition

Make that three administrations in a row that the number of LSAT takers has risen. At last, the LSAC has published the results of the February 2017 LSAT. 21,400 people took the test, up 5.4 percent from a year ago (20,301).

The four-period moving sum of LSAT administrations rose 1 percent to 109,354. By comparison, this administration year comes in slightly lower than 2012-13 (112,515). At the same time, the number of applicants is falling from last year, 1.9 percent lower than this time in 2016. As of now 55,100 people are projected to apply to law schools this year, but there may be a late surge in applicants as has tended to be the case in recent years. The number may be higher.

Although I’m still baffled why so many people would be interested in going to law school after such negative news in 2016, it’s even more surprising that more LSATs translates into fewer applicants. Perhaps LSAT takers are more strategic about their scores, which cautions against the hypothesis that the “wrong people” aren’t applying to law school (because, obviously, only high-LSAT scorers make good lawyers). So far, there’s no evidence of a Trump-induced surge in law-school interest. I’m confident that’s premature, but it’s something to bear in mind when the June LSAT takes place.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: December 2016 Edition

The number of December LSAT takers grew to 31,340 (+7.6 percent) this administration. It’s the second period with growth after small drops in February and June 2016.

no-lsat-takers-4-testing-period-moving-sum

The four-period moving sum, which is identical to the calendar-year total, rose to 108,255 (+2.1 percent). The growth rate is a hair less than in September/October 2015 (2.2 percent). The ABA Journal summarizes the discussion of whether the jump in test takers is increased interest in law school or a result of pushing the September/October administration earlier. Ultimately, the trend speaks to more interest in law school no matter how it’s distributed. We’ll learn more someday when the LSAC publishes data on first-time test takers.

I did not predict this result. As I said about the September/October 2016 LSAT administration, I thought the New York Times article on law schools earlier this summer would reduce interest in law school. However, as I discovered a few weeks ago, many applicants appear interested solely in highly regarded law schools, so even if there’s a bump in applicants, most law schools might not hear from any of them.

Speaking of which, the LSAC reports that applicants are down about 4.2 percent compared to last year. That still puts us on track to ~53,800 applicants. Last year 56,126 people applied to law school. With the back-loaded LSAT and later application deadlines, it’s possible that more people will apply than currently predicted. Again, I recommend caution because they may not distribute their applications evenly.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: September/October 2016 Edition

It only took the LSAC 40 days since the September/October LSAT administration to update its Web site, which is a noticeable improvement over June and February. Frankly, I’m finding that more interesting than the actual numbers: 33,563 for September/October, up 1.0 percent from last year.

no-lsat-takers-4-testing-period-moving-sum

Because of the rise in test takers, The four-period moving sum budged up 0.3 percent to 106,030. Essentially, the trend is flat, but I thought it would continue falling because of the New York Times article a few months back. I think it’s safe to say that if the Times can’t discourage people from law school, then the low-hanging fruit of easily dissuaded potential applicants has been exhausted.

Still, we don’t know anything about people who don’t choose to take the LSAT because they think it’s a bad idea. I question whether that’s a logically valid category. On the whole, we can expect another poor haul for law schools. Maybe others will consider going the Indiana Tech route.

Speaking of Indiana Tech, I recommend reading J-Dog’s gloating on the subject. He earned the privilege.