Total LSAT takers in steady decline

Last year I blogged about the fact that for legal education, the worst is yet to come--there continued to be fewer LSAT takers and fewer law school applicants. I charted the decline in cumulative LSATs administered last October. But I noted that there seemed to be an evening out by the end of the cycle and updated the chart to reflect that.

No longer. LSAC has now reported a 9.1% decrease year-over-year in LSAT test-takers in the June 2014 test, and a 8.1% decline in the October 2014 test. That's a cumulative total of 52,745 LSATs administered, down from 57,670 over last year, and down from 93,341 in 2009-2010--that's more than a 40% decline in LSATs administered.

Here's the updated chart showing cumulative LSATs administered.

It appears that for legal education, the worst still may be yet to come.

Bar exam scores dip to their lowest level in 10 years

Earlier, I noted that there had been a drop in bar passage rates in a handful of jurisdictions. (Follow that post to track state-by-state changes in the pass rates as the statistics come in.) A commenter theorized:

It's quite simple actually: the NCBE did a poor job of normalizing the MBE this year. The median MBE score is down a couple of points, and because states scale their essays to match the MBE results in their state, it also means median essay scores have decreased a small amount. Combine the two scores and you are seeing (in states using a 50/50 system), a 4-5 point drop in scores.

It's actually quite damning to the NCBE, because bar passage rates should be up and median MBEs also up if the historical correlation between LSAT and bar passage is taken into account.

Tennessee recently disclosed at the national mean scaled MBE score for July 2014 was 141.47. That's the lowest mean scaled MBE score for July since 2004, when the mean scaled MBE score was 141.2 (PDF). It's also almost three points lower than the July 2013 score.

There are innocuous reasons why the score dropped. It might be that there were a disproportionately high number of repeated test-takers. It might be that an increase in non-American law degree test-takers yielded a drop. Or there might be other reasons, too.

But for whatever reasons, the decline in MBE scores is almost assuredly the reason that bar passage rates have dropped in a number of jurisdictions. Whether similar declines are going to arise in places like New York and California in the weeks ahead is simply a matter of waiting.

One in a thousand: Judge Reinhardt and Ninth Circuit odds

Josh Blackman recently noted that Judge Stephen Reinhardt has the "uncanny ability to be on the right panels," and asked what the odds are that he could serve on the three recent panels, one regarding California's marriage amendment, another on striking jurors on the basis of sexual orientation, and a third on other Ninth Circuit marriage cases.

The odds are about 1 in 1000.

That's slightly deceptive--it's not unique to these three cases. It's simply because the odds of being on any three random panels are 1 in 1000 in the Ninth Circuit.

But here's now the math works.

There are 29 active judges in the Ninth Circuit. The odds of being on any given panel are 1/29 + 1/28 + 1/27, or 10.72% 1/29 + 1/28(28/29) + 1/27(27/29), or 10.34%.

But there are also 16 senior judges, and one of them may sit on a panel with two active judges. In those cases, the odds are 1/45 + 1/29 + 1/28, or 9.24% 1/29 + 1/28(28/29), or 0.69%.

So assuming the odds of selecting the first judge are completely random, there is a 29/45 chance that the first set of odds applies, and a 16/45 chance that the second set of odds applies for an active judge. That means we have 10.72 * (29/45) + 9.24 * (16/45), or 10.2% 10.32 * (29/45) + 6.89 * (16/45), or 9.10%, that an active judge will be selected for a given panel.

If we're looking at three panels, we take those odds and raise them to the third power. That leaves the odds of serving on any given three panels as 0.106% 0.075%, or something a little over 1 in 1000.

There are a number of caveats. Not all judges are "on" at the same time, and some pick different months to be available for panels, so the number at any given time is often fewer than 29. Senior judges have a lower caseload, and their odds of being picked may or may not be as certain a figure. Sometimes visiting judges, such as district court judges or senior judges from other circuits, may sit on the panel. Not all of the vacancies were filled on the Ninth Circuit in the last couple of years, and the number of senior judges fluctuated slightly in that period, too.

Yes, there's deeply limited data. But that's the high-level math behind any given Ninth Circuit panel selection.

Update: Roger Ford tweets, for just Ninth Circuit active judges, "It’s 3/29 or (1/29)+(1/28)*(28/29)+(1/27)(27/29)." That's more accurate--it factors in the odds as to whether a given judge has been selected for the first or second slots on the three-judge panel. And that's about 10.3%, slightly lower odds than my original math, but still comes out to just about 1 in 1000.

Update II: I've attempted to fix the math... but this is the peril when it's been a decade since my last math class. Thanks for all the patience with my rough efforts.

Glossary: What words and phrases in Supreme Court analysis mean

It's another October Term for the Supreme Court!

And that means it's another year of compelling Supreme Court analysis.

You may not be familiar with the jargon that usually accompanies Supreme Court analysis. Here's a brief glossary of key terms, and what they mean when an author uses them.

along gender lines: "Justice Breyer did not vote along partisan lines."

along partisan lines: "Thank goodness Justices Stevens and Souter retired."

angry dissent: "I [the author] agree with the majority."

bitter dissent: "I agree with the majority."

blistering dissent: "I agree with the dissent."

bold: "There is no meaningful textual support for the argument the Court advanced."

Citizens United: "This article is clickbait."

hammered: "The opinion was disrespectful, but I enjoyed it."

impassioned: "The opinion might not have had the law, or the facts, on its side, but it sure did have the adjectives and the adverbs."

the justice was moved to read his/her dissent aloud from the bench: "I'm bursting at the seams to inform you that I agree with that dissent."

Lochner: "I'm about to rip Chief Justice Roberts for being pro-business."

major blow: "The losing party actually lost."

the majority dismissed these concerns: "I had concerns that the majority did not address."

may: "This is not a fact."

many observers: "The first law professor who answered my phone call."

members of Congress expressed outrage: "Some people have never read Article V."

modest: "The opinion did not discuss as many things as I wanted."

narrowly divided: "The vote was 5-4, and I agree with the four dissenting justices."

passionate dissent: "I agree with the dissent."

potentially: "I am making things up."

powerful dissent: "I agree with the dissent."

rebuked: "The losing party actually lost."

repeatedly: "More than once."

restraint: "I am going to compliment Chief Justice Roberts."

scathing: "The opinion used a lot of hyperbolic words."

setback: "The losing party actually lost."

sharply divided: "The vote was 5-4, and I agree with the four dissenting justices."

sidestepped: "The Court did not include very much dicta."

speculated: "You should not read the rest of this sentence."

supremely: "I lack any creativity."

surprising: "My rampant speculation after listening to oral argument was wrong."

sweeping: "I think this case is important."

tea leaves: "You should not read the rest of this article."

unbroken silence: "I'm going to discuss Justice Thomas."

unprecedented: "It turns out that the Court had a purpose when it granted certiorari to address a new issue."

unusual alliance: "This isn't the 5-4 opinion I wanted to write about."

waded: "The Court probably regrets granting cert."

Highlights from Pepperdine Law this week

I don't usually highlight what takes place at Pepperdine University School of Law, but my colleagues have had a string of impressive articles in national newspapers this week on interesting subject, and I thought I would highlight them.

Michael Helfand wrote a piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Is a prisoner's beard dangerous?" It evaluates the upcoming Supreme Court case interpreting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act. It opens:

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Holt vs. Hobbs, another big-ticket case that tests the limits of religious liberty when it comes into conflict with government regulation. The petitioner — Gregory Holt — is a prison inmate, housed by the Arkansas Department of Correction. But Holt is also known by another name, Abdul Maalik Muhammad, and he is by all accounts a sincere adherent of Islam. As part of that faith commitment, he wants to grow his beard 1/2-inch long in accordance with Islamic practice.

It seems like a relatively reasonable request. But Arkansas prison officials have refused to grant it, arguing that a 1/2-inch beard would prevent them from maintaining the safety and security of the prison. The Department of Correction contends that Holt might be able to hide, for example, a SIM card or a razor in such a beard; the former could be used to order contraband and the latter to commit further violent crimes.

Rick Cupp participated in the New York Times Room for Debate on the site's opinion pages and wrote a piece called, "Animal Cruelty Laws Don’t Depend on Animal Rights."

Vigorous prosecution of animal cruelty is appropriate, but not based on animal rights. All members of nonhuman animal species are incapable of significant moral responsibilities, and thus affording them "rights" just doesn't fit. Rather than focusing on rights for cats and dogs, we should focus on human moral responsibility.

Finally, Ed Larson has a new book forthcoming, The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789. It was reviewed in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. The reviews explains:

If never considered exactly wilderness years, the span between the end of the war and Washington’s presidency is often seen as a hiatus in which the Virginia planter put his estate in order and then shed legitimacy on the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia solely by his taciturn presence. But Mr. Larson, a history professor at Pepperdine University, engagingly argues that the stretch between 1783 and 1789 was as important to Washington—and to America—as all that preceded and followed it.

I deeply appreciate my conversations with my colleagues on these and many other legal subjects, and I'm so thrilled to see their successful research highlights across the country this week.

A more difficult bar exam, or a sign of declining student quality?

I saw this thread at Top-Law-Schools about bar passage rates apparently somewhat lower than previous years. Thanks to link aggregation of bar statistics at Deceptively Blonde, I could start comparing results to the NCBEX annual statistics (PDF). Unfortunately, due to selectivity of statistical releases at this point, it's not possible at this moment to get a sufficiently granular analysis of bar passage. (For instance, most bars only report total pass rates, which include all takers, including repeaters and those from non-ABA accredited schools.) But we can start with a little anecdata until the full NCBEX data is released next spring.

These figures compare overall bar takers in July. Numbers are rounded to maintain consistency with NCBEX data.

Alabama, -6 points (July 2013: 71%; July 2014: 65%)

Florida, +1 point (July 2013: 71%; July 2014: 72%)

Idaho, -15 points (July 2013: 80%; July 2014: 65%)

Indiana, -8 points (July 2013: 76%; July 2014: 68%)

Iowa, -11 points (July 2013: 92%; July 2014: 81%)

New Mexico, +3 points (July 2013: 81%; July 2014: 84%)

North Carolina, -1 point (July 2013: 63%; July 2014: 62%)

Oklahoma, -3 points (July 2013: 82%; July 2014: 79%)

Oregon, -10 points (July 2013: 75%; July 2014: 65%)

Vermont, -6 points (July 2013: 72%; July 2014: 66%)

Washington, -8 points (July 2013: 85%; July 2014: 77%)

Of the ten states that have disclosed overall bar passage rates, seven have passage rates that dropped at least five points, and three have passage rates that dropped at least ten points.


Have state bars begun increasing the difficulty of their exams? That seems unlikely, because it's usually a big deal, and a public deal, for a state to adjust an exam. The fact that this is happening in several places also makes it unlikely.

Has student quality declined? The graduating class of 2014 was admitted in 2011, at a time of a very high applicant pool and some of the highest standards for most schools--while we might see a decline in passage rates in the next couple of years as schools sacrifice LSAT medians, GPA medians, and, perhaps most importantly, index scores (as I blogged about here), it doesn't explain why there's a drop for this graduating class. That said, the applications in 2011 were down slightly from the 2010 peak. (If anything, it may portend an even more dire situation as the student quality at institutions makes its way to graduation.)

Is it simply a brief anomaly from a few states? It might be. Looking at 2012 results (PDF), North Carolina had a 72% passage rate in July 2012; Washington had a 64% passage rate. So perhaps some significant oscillation in a few jurisdictions is not unprecedented.

At this stage, it's a small data point to keep an eye on as the bar results come in. Additionally, if bar passage rates decline overall, we might see another wave of consequences: fewer students passing state bars in July means lower employment outcomes for students in bar passage-required positions that must be reported the following February. Schools that slashed admissions standards three years ago might be seeing the consequences if higher numbers of their graduates fail the bar.

Update: Here are a few additional results. This will occasionally be updated. For a chart identifying a sharp decline in MBE scores, please see this post.

Arizona, -8 points (July 2013: 68%; July 2014: 76%)

Colorado, -4 points (July 2013, 79%; July 2014: 75%)

Connecticut, +3 points (July 2013: 77%; July 2014, 77%)

Delaware, -9 points (July 2013: 72%; July 2014: 63%)

District of Columbia, -8 points (July 2013: 47%; July 2014: 39%)

Kentucky, unchanged (July 2013: 76%; July 2014: 76%)

Louisiana, +17 points (July 2013: 53%; July 2014, 70%)*

Missouri, -4 points (July 2013: 89%; July 2014, 85%)

Nevada, -9 points (July 2013: 66%; July 2014: 57%)

Pennsylvania, -1 point (July 2013: 77%; July 2014: 76%)

Tennessee, -12 points (July 2013, 78%; July 2014, 66%)

Virginia, -7 points (July 2013: 75%; July 2014: 68%)

Running totals for change in passage rate (for 16 jurisdictions)


Drop of at least ten points: 4

Drop of five to nine points: 9

Essentially unchanged (drop of four points to increase of four points): 9

Increase of five or more points: 1*

*Louisiana is the only state that does not use the MBE.

Top network domains of .edu and .gov visitors, October 1, 2013-September 30, 2014

I've been looking around at some of the data that Google Analytics tracks, and one thing it tracks include network domains of visitors. I found it fascinating, and I thought I'd share the results from a couple of categories this blog's visitors.

For visitors from the United States in the last twelve months (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014), here are the top network domains for .edu visitors (7445 sessions total): (UC-Irvine): 307 (Pepperdine): 246 (NYU): 244 (Columbia): 229 (Penn): 206 (UCLA): 203 (Harvard): 192 (Texas): 135 (Northwestern): 134 (John Marshall Law School): 122 (Yale): 109 (Loyola Los Angeles): 103 (Ohio State): 95 (Georgetown): 92 (Cornell): 91 (Notre Dame): 86 (Duke): 85 (Chicago): 84 (Virginia): 83 (Stanford): 81

And here are the top network domains for .gov visitors (2046 sessions total): (853) (324) (55) (54) (49) (33) (32) (28) (27) (22)

Fictional Attorney of the Month: Amanda Bonner

The 1949 film Adam's Rib pairs the popular duo Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, this time as married attorneys who square off against on another in court.

Amanda Bonner (Hepburn) represents Doris Attinger, a woman accused of homicide after killing her husband. Ms. Attinger suspected her husband of having an affair and fires a gun in a moment of passion. Amanda takes the case after her husband Adam (Tracy, perhaps a future FAotM?) is assigned the case for the prosecutor's office.

The movie highlights not just the inimitable chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn (although, to be fair, it's more often negative chemistry given the adversarial position of the parties), but also confronts some high courtroom drama concerning gender roles, stereotypes, domestic violence, and marital harmony.

And Amanda Bonner's masterful performance is good enough for the Fictional Attorney of the Month.