My thoughts on Gill v. Whitford at SCOTUSblog: "No closer to consensus"

I had the opportunity to participate in a symposium on Gill v. Whitford at SCOTUSblog last here. Here's my entry. It begins:

Gill v. Whitford began as a blockbuster election-law case and ended (this time) as a federal-courts decision with a hint of trial strategy and evidence. It also left open the possibility of a transformational view of the First Amendment for future partisan-gerrymandering cases.

In 2016, a three-judge federal court found that Wisconsin’s state legislative map drawn in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Many hoped that the Supreme Court could provide a majority opinion articulating a standard for lower courts to handle such claims — past attempts at securing a majority had been elusive. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Continued hope for modest law school applicant increase in 2018

After a sharp spike in LSAT test-takers in July 2017, I noted that it was good news, with some caution, because first-time test-takers were slowly becoming smaller and smaller in the LSAT test-taker pool. In December 2017, I noted the same cautious optimism for improved applicant quality and quality this admissions cycle.

You can sort through up-to-date figures at LSAC here to see the pace of applicants, including higher quality and quantity. But, again, cautious optimism is in order.

While LSAT test-takers are up 19% year-over-year, applicants look to rise just 8%--better than a decline or a nominal increase, to be sure, but far short of the surge one might project from LSAT test-takers. Then again, given unlimited repeats, this is hardly a surprise. But another surprise is that despite a number of schools accepting the GRE, we don't see a higher applicant pool given the surge in LSAT test-takers. One might expect that LSAT test-takers now understate applicants. That's apparently not the case (at the moment, on a very superficial level).

Schools should hope that applicants exceed 60,000, which would be the first time since the 2009-2010 cycle. (I should emphasize here that LSAC has changed some of its counting in the last few cycles, so it's a rough approximation to go across years like this.) Additionally, if schools modestly increase their matriculants as the quality and quantity increases, we may see more than 40,000 enrolled for the first time since Fall 2012.

But visualized this way, the sharp increase of LSATs administered is in some contrast to the modest increase in applicants. Time will tell what this cycle holds--and by next fall, we'll know how schools handled this applicant pool in terms of overall matriculants.

Small law firm jobs shrink dramatically and big law hiring picks up for the Class of 2017

After sharing some big-picture good news about the legal job market for the Class of 2017, I thought I'd share a few details on the market, similar to my report last year. Indeed, the report is very similar to last year's because the trends have accelerated. And outcomes appear to be qualitatively and quantitatively better.

I drew comparisons to the Class of 2013 (which, it should be noted, were nine-month figures). Declines in overall jobs, overall graduates, and bar passage rates assuredly affect some of the industry-specific figures. Last year, I noted that jobs in smaller firms and business and industry were disappearing for entry-level hires. That continues to be the case.

FTLT Class of 2013 Class of 2017 Net Delta
Solo 926 392 -534 -57.7%
2-10 6,947 5,145 -1,802 -25.9%
11-25 1,842 1,628 -214 -11.6%
26-50 1,045 953 -92 -8.8%
51-100 846 779 -67 -7.9%
101-205 1,027 956 -71 -6.9%
251-500 1,041 983 -58 -5.6%
501+ 3,978 4,569 591 14.9%
Business/Industry 5,494 3,241 -2,253 -41.0%
Government 4,360 3,812 -548 -12.6%
Public Interest 1,665 1,419 -246 -14.8%
Federal Clerk 1,259 1,151 -108 -8.6%
State Clerk 2,043 1,984 -59 -2.9%
Academia/Education 490 303 -187 -38.2%

I think the decline is likely attributable to two factors. First, as bar passage rates decrease, the most marginal graduates--who were already the ones most likely to enter solo practice--are the ones most likely to be squeezed out. The same holds true at very small firms, 2-10 attorneys. If the graduates who'd typically fill those spots are now failing the bar exam, we'd expect the positions to decline. A nearly 60% decline in entry-level sole practitioners, and more than a 25% decline in 2-10-attorney firm hiring, is pretty sharp in just four years.

Additionally, business & industry jobs are the ones most likely to be categorized as J.D. advantage positions, and we've seen a decline in those positions generally.

On top of that, big law hiring--at firms with more than 500 attorneys--has increased 15% in four years. Given the dramatic decline in the number of graduates--12,000 fewer graduates between 2013 and 2017--things look even better. For the Class of 2013, 8.6% of graduates ended up in the biggest of law firm jobs; that figure climbed to 13.3% for the Class of 2017. Of course, big law jobs aren't everything, and there were slight declines in 101-500-attorney firms along with federal clerkships. But, the trend is a good one.

All in all, these are good signs for the market. The employment figures are not just quantitatively better; they are also qualitatively better, as more graduates are in the most coveted jobs (again, conceding that big law jobs aren't everything), and fewer are in the more marginal or least desired positions.

Good news for legal employment outcomes for the Class of 2017

UPDATE: This entire chart may need to be redone because the ABA's data confusingly differs from the individual forms and its overall spreadsheet--funded positions were originally included in top-line figures. These figures have been changed. My apologies.

The American Bar Association released its comprehensive employment statistics for the Class of 2017, a few weeks ahead of last year's pace (a laudable improvement). Here are some top-line figures (excluding Puerto Rico's three law schools):

  Graduates FTLT BPR Placement FTLT JDA
Class of 2012 45,751 25,503 55.7% 4,218
Class of 2013 46,112 25,787 55.9% 4,550
Class of 2014 43,195 25,348 58.7% 4,774
Class of 2015 40,205 23,895 59.4% 4,416
Class of 2016 36,654 22,874 62.4% 3,948
Class of 2017 34,428 23,078 67.0% 3,121

The statistics reveal some fairly remarkable figures. Law schools have shed 12,000 graduates in four years. The result? A placement rate in unfunded full-time, long-term, bar passage-required positions has risen from about 56% to 67%.

Year over year, raw placement in those jobs improved slightly, too, with about 200 new placements in those jobs. Some improvement in bar passage rates (whether better test-takers or lower cut scores) surely can't hurt.

Significantly, placement in J.D.-advantage jobs has dropped fairly sharply in the last couple of years. For years, the versatility and flexibility of J.D. has been a common point of defense among law schools, not without some controversy. But those positions--which not only highlight the versatility of the J.D., but aren't contingent on passing the bar--have been declining, too. That said, if schools are able to place more graduates in bar passage-required positions, all the better for them.

I've continued to wonder whether the ABA's decision to change the reporting deadlines from 9 to 10 months after graduation has improved the reporting situation for schools--but, we lack any data about the impact of such changes.

In short, we have some good news for law schools. Placement has topped 2/3 in bar passage required jobs, and those positions have seen a modest improvement. I'll dig into some more industry-specific figures in the near future.

Visualizing legal employment outcomes in California in 2017

This is the eighth and last in a series of visualizations on legal employment outcomes for the Class of 2017. Following posts on outcomes in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Illinois, Ohio, and DC-Maryland-Virginia, here is a visualization for legal employment outcomes of graduates of California law schools for the Class of 2017. (More about the methodology is available at the Florida post.) Last year's California post is here.

While most markets remained fairly stagnant, California saw a marked rise year-over-year. total graduates dropped to 3910, a slight decline from 4081 in 2016 but a big decline from the 4403 in 2015 and 4731 in 2014. But the overall unfunded placement rate soared from 64.3% to 69.9%. That came from an increase in in bar passage-required jobs, from 2206 to 2397, as J.D.-advantage placement dropped.

Law school-funded positions also tapered off, from 118 positions (2.9% of graduates) last year to 82 (2.1%) this year. (Please recall from the methodology that the bar chart is sorted by full-weight positions, which excludes school-funded positions, while the table below that is sorted by total employment as USNWR prints, which includes school-funded positions.)

As always, please notify me of any corrections or errata.

Peer Score School 2017 YoY% BPR JDA LSF 2016 BPR JDA LSF
4.4 University of California-Berkeley 94.8% 0.2 269 6 14 94.5% 278 11 23
4.8 Stanford University 93.9% -0.1 163 15 7 94.0% 164 4 4
3.9 University of California-Los Angeles 92.5% 1.6 283 17 31 90.8% 239 18 30
3.5 University of Southern California 90.0% 4.5 179 4 5 85.5% 140 9 22
3.3 University of California-Irvine 86.5% 0.9 72 4 7 85.6% 84 3 14
3.4 University of California-Davis 84.4% 3.3 119 10 12 81.2% 87 11 14
2.6 Loyola Law School-Los Angeles 79.6% 6.0 204 31 3 73.6% 221 36 5
2.6 Pepperdine University 75.8% 10.0 134 34 1 65.7% 98 19 2
1.9 Chapman University 68.2% 7.5 81 20 0 60.8% 78 18 0
2.6 University of San Diego 67.6% 9.8 121 17 0 57.8% 102 24 0
3.0 University of California-Hastings 67.5% 0.5 166 22 1 67.0% 154 46 1
1.6 California Western School of Law 64.5% 1.4 106 21 0 63.1% 82 29 0
2.4 Santa Clara University 64.0% 2.6 77 10 0 61.4% 102 30 0
2.0 University of San Francisco 60.8% 13.6 75 18 0 47.1% 46 20 0
1.9 McGeorge School of Law 59.1% 2.3 62 16 0 56.8% 56 23 0
1.8 Southwestern Law School 58.6% 4.1 124 43 0 54.5% 125 48 2
1.1 Western State College of Law 52.1% 7.0 32 6 0 45.1% 29 12 0
1.5 Golden Gate University 51.7% 10.7 33 11 1 41.1% 30 15 1
nr Whittier Law School 39.6% 0.5 44 15 0 39.1% 38 12 0
1.2 University of La Verne 36.8% 5.5 12 2 0 31.4% 7 9 0
nr Thomas Jefferson School of Law 32.2% 0.3 41 15 0 31.9% 46 21 0

Visualizing legal employment outcomes in DC-Maryland-Virginia in 2017

This is the seventh in a series of visualizations on legal employment outcomes for the Class of 2017. Following posts on outcomes in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Ohio, here is a visualization for legal employment outcomes of graduates of DC, Maryland, and Virginia law schools for the Class of 2017. (More about the methodology is available at the Florida post.) Last year's DC-Maryland-Virginia post is here.

There were around 3410 graduates of law schools in the region, down from 3600 last year and 3740 for the Class of 2015, a 10% decline in just two years. Overall unfunded placement rose from 76.8% to 78.3%. Most of that growth came because of the declining number of graduates, but, as a positive improvement, J.D.-advantage placement dropped significantly as bar passage-required placement held steady. Georgetown continues its robust school-funded placement (40 jobs), well ahead of George Washington (9) & Virignia (8).

As always, please notify me of any corrections or errata.

Peer score School 2017 YoY% BPR JDA LSF 2016 BPR JDA LSF
4.3 University of Virginia 96.6% 0.6 271 7 8 96.1% 293 5 19
4.1 Georgetown University 89.0% 1.9 504 40 40 87.1% 486 38 44
3.2 Washington & Lee University 83.8% -0.4 79 4 0 84.2% 73 7 0
3.3 George Washington University 82.6% 2.8 422 69 9 79.8% 373 61 9
2.6 University of Richmond 81.9% 4.9 101 21 0 77.0% 95 19 0
2.8 Antonin Scalia Law School 80.9% -5.5 92 26 5 86.5% 86 25 4
3.2 William & Mary Law School 80.8% -0.6 158 10 0 81.3% 162 21 0
2.9 University of Maryland 77.8% -5.8 108 36 3 83.6% 126 51 1
1.3 Regent University 74.4% 3.9 46 10 2 70.5% 57 5 0
2.0 University of Baltimore 72.8% -3.4 136 27 0 76.2% 142 69 0
2.4 Howard University 69.9% 6.7 65 6 1 63.2% 65 20 1
1.2 Liberty University 69.0% 5.2 37 3 0 63.8% 32 4 1
2.8 American University 68.0% 1.7 197 56 0 66.3% 219 56 0
1.5 District of Columbia 66.2% 0.2 19 27 1 66.0% 33 30 1
2.2 Catholic University of America 64.0% -1.3 61 10 0 65.2% 53 37 0
1.2 Appalachian School of Law 59.5% 7.1 22 3 0 52.4% 15 7 0

Visualizing legal employment outcomes in Ohio in 2017

This is the sixth in a series of visualizations on legal employment outcomes for the Class of 2017. Following posts on outcomes in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, and Illinois, here is a visualization for legal employment outcomes of graduates of Ohio law schools for the Class of 2017. (More about the methodology is available at the Florida post.) Last year's Ohio post is here.

There were around 950 graduates of Ohio's 9 law schools, down from around 1090 two years ago. That's helped placement in bar passage required and J.D. advantage jobs rise to 72.8% (including a few school-funded jobs), up three points. Overall jobs increased slightly. Remarkably, four of these law schools graduated classes of fewer than 100 students.

As always, please notify me of any corrections or errata.

Peer Score School 2017 YoY% BPR JDA LSF 2016 BPR JDA LSF
3.3 Ohio State University 88.5% -0.9 126 16 4 89.4% 137 20 3
2.3 University of Cincinnati 80.0% -3.7 53 3 0 83.7% 74 13 0
1.6 Ohio Northern University 76.9% 14.4 37 3 0 62.5% 35 10 0
1.9 University of Akron 71.7% 8.8 71 15 0 62.9% 58 20 0
2.7 Case Western Reserve University 71.0% 6.4 83 15 0 64.6% 56 8 0
1.9 University of Toledo 69.7% 9.5 42 11 0 60.2% 32 21 0
1.5 Capital University 65.8% 16.2 63 14 0 49.6% 45 14 0
1.9 Cleveland-Marshall College of Law 65.0% -2.6 61 15 0 67.5% 62 17 0
1.8 University of Dayton 62.5% -10.3 48 12 0 72.8% 40 19 0

February 2018 MBE bar scores collapse to all-time record low in test history

If that headline seems like déjà vu, it's because I wrote the same headline after the February 2017 MBE bar scores were released. There were some interesting comments last year about the best way to visualize the decline, so here are a couple of attempts below. (You can see more about the methodology choices in last year's post, including reasons it's a non-zero Y-axis, which would be absurd.)

We now know the mean scaled national February MBE score was 132.8, down 1.8 points from last year's 134.0, which was already an all-time record low. We would expect bar exam passing rates to drop in most jurisdictions.

For perspective, California's "cut score" is 144, Virginia's 140, Texas's 135, and New York's 133. The trend is more pronounced when looking at a more recent window of scores.

On the heels of an uptick in MBE scores last July, the results are particularly troubling. Given how small the February pool is in relation to the July pool, it's hard to draw too many conclusions from the February test-taker pool.

That said, the February cohort is historically much weaker than the July cohort, in part because it includes so many who failed in July and retook in February. Without knowing the percentage of repeaters, that would be the first place to look.

Another reason might relate to the increase in the July scores. Based on some informed speculation, some schools may have been advising some more at-risk students to delay taking the July exam and instead prepare more for the February exam in hopes of increasing first-time pass rates. If that happened, we may see a skewing in the quality of first-time test-takers in the February cohort, which would result in a decline in scores. That might explain some of the small improvement in July and decline in February.

At some point soon, however, we should see a more regular rebound in bar pass rates. The first major drop in bar exam scores was revealed to law schools in late fall 2014. That means the 2014-2015 applicant cycle, to the extent schools took heed of the warning, was a time for them to improve the quality of their incoming classes, leading to some improvement for the class graduating this May of 2018.

Of course, these are high-level projections and guesses. School-specific data would be useful. But it surely will not end the debates raging right now about the bar exam, and it will only serve to put more pressure on law schools looking at this July's bar exam.

UPDATE: NCBEX has revealed that first-time test-takers were 30% of the pool and saw a smaller decline than repeaters, but the number of repeaters was mostly unchanged. Karen Sloan has more.