Tuesday, November 5, 2013

MAPLA Conference: LSAC Admissions Data -- 1968 to 2013

LSAC Data on Trends in 
LSAT Tests Administered, 
ABA Applicants, and 
First-Year Law School Matriculants 
-- 1968 to 2013 -- 

At the conference of the Midwest Association of Pre-Law Advisors (MAPLA), which I first discussed here, LSAC General Counsel, Joan Van Tol, presented new data on applications to law school through August 2013.

I emailed her this morning asking her to provide a link to her slides, if possible.  She advises that they have not been posted, but should eventually appear on the PLANC website.

I plan to continue to blog on the extremely helpful data provided at this conference by several speakers.

Van Tol began with a slide showing a graph with three trend lines for the period of 1968 through the admissions year 2012-2013:
  • for LSAT tests administered; 
  • for ABA applicants; and 
  • for first-year law students.   
Most strikingly, the graph shows that legal education has seen three large cycles in the volume of LSATs administered and ABA applicants to law school.

I have not tried to correlate the graph to other data available on tests administered. Other bloggers have assembled that data. So I rely on the graph alone, which makes identifying specific years for any of these changes difficult to pinpoint.

The first up-cycle in LSAT tests administered started about 1968, peaked in 1974, and then started a slow decline to the trough in 1986. The market recovered quickly to start a second up-cycle in 1987 or 1988. That cycle peaked in about 1991 and then took a steeper decline to the trough beginning in about 1996. This time the market recovered more slowly, apparently after about five years of flat numbers of LSAT takers.  It finally started to recover in 2001 or 2002, climbed quickly, then flattened out for a couple of years, dipped a bit in 2005, then shot up quickly to an all-time high in LSAT tests administered in 2008 or 2009. Just as quickly, it fell off nearly to the level of 2001 or 2002.  In other words, most of the gain in LSAT tests administered apparently vanished after the 2008 recession.

The number of LSAT tests administered ranged from about 59,000 in 1968 to a high of over 160,000 in about 2009.  During the second cycle, LSAT test administered reached a high of about 150,000 tests in 1991.

The trough in 1986 saw the number of LSAT tests administered drop to about 90,000. The trough in 1996 to 2001 saw the number of LSAT tests administered fall to about 110,000.

Update:  In a Nov. 4, 2013 on-line article, the ABA reported:
The number of people taking the Law School Admission Test continues to drop. 
Only 33,673 people took the LSAT in October, an 11 percent decline from the previous year, report the National Law Journal and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.). The new number is a 45 percent drop from the all-time high reached in October 2009. 
The October number is at its lowest point since 1998.
Predictably, the trend line for ABA applicants echos the trend line shown for LSAT tests administered.

The third trend line surprised me.  It represents first-year law students.  In 1968, about 30,000 applicants actually matriculated. The number rises to about 40,000 in 1974 (post-Watergate?), stays relatively flat until about 2001, rises to about 50,000 first-year students in 2001, and continues to rise to about 58,000 students in 2010, until it drops suddenly.

So, yes, we have seen cycles of high and very low volumes of applicants to law school for the last 45 years.  However, the troughs may be extending in length. Arguably we are in year 3 of the most recent trough.  But, will it last five years like the last one or be even longer?

The October LSAT 2013 test taking numbers suggest that we have at least another one or two years in the trough before we can hope to see any rise in interest in law school.  As noted above, the second historic cycle hit bottom in about 1996 and stayed static until 2001.

Also, this last downturn comes after all-time highs in LSAT tests administered and available law jobs.  So, it feels steeper and more threatening, especially because so many new law schools came on line during the period of growth of LSAT tests administered from 2002 to 2008-2010.

In my next blog, I'll discuss the LSAC data on changes in law school applicants for Fall 2012 to Fall 2013 by geographic region.  It raises more questions than it answers, but you will find it interesting.  

I expect to talk with some folks at LSAC today (Nov. 8) to ensure that my interpretation of the graph is correct.  So, I may need to revise some of the specific years mentioned, but the overall discussion will likely stay the same.

Dec. 14, 2013 Update:  LSAC has provided data for 2010 to 2014, with a projection of a little over 51,000 applicants for 2014.

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