A few thoughts on improving law school test and applicant figures for 2018

Recent data from the Law School Admissions Council shows that Law School Admissions Tests administered in December 2017 were up an eye-popping 27.9% year-over-year. It's worth digging a bit into the figures to see what that really means.

First, they're up slightly more in the United States than Canada--recall that this figure includes all LSATs administered. This represents an increase of 29.1% in the United States year-over-year.

But, second, it represents a slightly less impressive total among first-time test-takers. Recall that the LSAC, as of September 2017, allows test-takers to retake an unlimited number of times. Because LSAC reports the highest score to schools (which is less reliable than the average of scores), there is increased incentive to retake tests. First-time test-takers increased 24.0% year-over-year, but repeaters increased a whopping 35.8%. That said, 24% year-over-year increase in first-time United States test-takers is nothing to scoff at.

Third, the quality of applicants is up year-over-year. Those with an LSAT score of 160-164 are up 10.2% year-over-year as of February 21, and those with a score of 165-169 are up 22.8%. The lowest scores have seen a slight decline in applicants.

This is very good news for the best law schools. Of course, the open question is what happens now: do the very good law schools that have shrunk in recent years maintain their size and improve quality, which trickles down to the benefit of many other schools? Or do those schools increase their size and seize the greatest advantage from the improved quality? Time will tell.

Applicants are up 8.8% year-over-year. This is somewhat lower than one would expect given the significant year-over-year increase in first-time United States test-takers, but it might be that the December bump will be reflected much later in the cycle. (Indeed, as schools have quietly dropped their applicant deadlines, coupled with high incentives to retake tests, we may expect that applications lag slightly in each subsequent cycle.)

Of course, these projections may change dramatically. We may see more applicants (but not as many as the increase in LSAT test-takers, for reasons noted about the higher increase in repeaters than first-time test-takers). But, the advent of the GRE in admissions in law schools may mean that these LSAT figures are less predictive than they once were, and we may see more GRE-only applicants.

Time will tell. In short, the figures offer, with some nuance, an overall good picture for legal education generally for the incoming Class of 2018 (including the cohort taking the bar exam in July 2021). How that translates into individual schools, and how precise these figures look in the months ahead, remains to be seen.