May 03, 2005
Fixing Law School Admissions
Posted by Christine Hurt

As I have talked about before (here, here, and here), I have been on our school's admissions committee this year.  I entered with excitement and energy.  I pored over files to get a holistic sense of each candidate.  I wanted to extend Marquette's commitment to cura personalis to even the admissions process.  However, each time I was inspired to diverge from the beaten path of merely looking at a candidate's numbers, I met up with the same brick wall:  USNWR rankings.

The USNWR requires law schools to report statistics about its incoming class each year.  The USNWR is not committed to cura personalis.  So, each time a committee member argues to admit a candidate with an interesting job background, volunteer background, life experience, or personal life goal, the ultimate question becomes "How bad will this hurt us in USNWR?"  For a school with a small entering class, each admittee can move the medians that USNWR reports and weights in its rankings system.  This is obviously the ultimate tail wagging the dog.

So, here are my modest proposals to fix the USNWR system so that the numbers that are reported more accurately reflect what they are supposed to reflect:  the "quality" of the incoming class.

1.  Require law schools to report only a student's gpa for the last two years of college.  When we are discussing a candidate with less than stellar grades, someone inevitably asks what the student's grade trajectory is.  Did the student start out pre-med, get bad grades, then switch to English and have all As the rest of the time?  Did the student start college, drop out, then start again with a new outlook?  I think it is a shame that a candidate who takes a less-than-linear approach to completing a bachelor's degree is unnecessarily judged by a stale gpa or a gpa that reflects a mistaken path.  We certainly don't want all law school students to take a low-risk undergraduate path designed to prevent gpa pitfalls.

2.  Don't require law schools to report gpa's for students if the gpa is over eight years old.  Not only do individuals change, but so do grading trends.  Most colleges give higher grades than they did ten years ago.  Therefore, judging a 30-year-old by the grades he or she was given ten years ago is not an accurate assessment of studiousness.  Applicants who have been in the professional world for a number of years should be judged based on their work experience, not on stale grades alone.

3.  Create other categories of reporting that reflects quality besides gpa and lsat.  Be creative.  Number of years work experience of incoming students?  Number of masters' degrees of incoming students?  Number of Ph.D.'s of incoming students?  Geographic diversity?  Undergraduate diversity?  These are items that we look at to get a picture of the quality of an applicant.  Perhaps in determining the quality of an incoming class for USNWR, these are the questions that the publication should ask as well.

4.  Rethink "selectivity" and "acceptance rate" categories.  These categories are very easy to manipulate.  In particular, the "selectivity" category incentivizes law schools to make low-risk acceptance decisions that do not benefit anyone.

5.  I can't think of a number 5 right now, but four suggestions doesn't seem to be enough.

I have more wrap-out thoughts about the admissions process for other posts.

Law Schools/Lawyering | Bookmark

TrackBacks (1)

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345157d569e200d834231caa53ef

Links to weblogs that reference Fixing Law School Admissions:

ยป Fixing Law School Admissions from PrawfsBlawg ...
"Christine's got an interesting post up on Conglomerate Blog about fixing law school admissions. ..." [more] (Tracked on May 4, 2005 @ 8:37)
Comments (20)

11. Posted by Scarlett O' Harried on May 12, 2005 @ 11:33 | Permalink

Why does everyone blame the schools for perpetuating the rankings obsession? Those who wish to become attorneys are some of the best and brightest minds in our country, yet rather than investigage the quality of schools on their own, they consistently pander to the rankings themselves! Who here hasn't heard a student with a terrific GPA and good LSAT hem and haw over whether to go to Columbia or NYU because one is ranked a few spots higher than the other? If those who apply to law schools simply choose a school based on their own criteria instead of someone else's, law school classes would have much more diverse populations and students could learn from each other rather than compete against each other. Instead, year after year, the smartest of our students become lemmings and hurry to hurl their application in with the sea of others at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, often with no idea what these schools are really like.

The claim that the law schools should stop accepting students based on rankings concerns falls flat on its face when students choose which schools to even apply to based on rankings in USNWR.

Those who wish to put the chicken before the egg are the same ones that don't have the courage of their own convictions to rise above the rankings themselves.

Want to change the system? Start with your own actions. If their customers (the students) want change, the schools will change with them.

I find it ironic that those seeking an education where critical thinking is paramount seem to lack that very skill while navigating the admissions process.


12. Posted by Ryan Jaye on May 13, 2005 @ 11:11 | Permalink

Why attack the reporting requirements to USNWR when it is LSAC that calculates the ridiculous "UGPA" that fails to accurately reflect the GPA quality factors mentioned in mumbers 1-3?


13. Posted by me on August 18, 2005 @ 16:12 | Permalink

wow! finally someone who makes sense in this mad magazine world! i think i'll send a link to this article to law school discussion...


14. Posted by Kyle Rothstein on October 22, 2005 @ 23:26 | Permalink

Hi everyone,
My son is in 9th grade. I am just wondering if you think Stanford will start to look at his grades now. When I was a kid, college's started to look at grades when you were in 10th grade.


15. Posted by Joe on November 23, 2005 @ 14:18 | Permalink

I believe that it is unfair for those who worked hard to have (1) affect their GPA. (1) and (2) should never be put into affect. First off, just because you have work experience doesn't make you that much smarter or better. We all know that.

Now I personally don't have the stellar GPA and LSAT to get into a top law school but I believe you should get what you reap in terms of LSAT and GPA. If you didn't sober up until you were 21 and then started getting straight A's that's too bad. We can come up with a myriad of excuses and some lawyer out there can argue that maybe we should just count grades from classes we are interested in because they really show our potential. Shoot, why not let the students pick 10 class grades they feel represent themselves the best? (1) and (2) are slippery slops, if law school admissions let these two go there's no reason why they can't go further. They should count all of it (GPA+LSAT), ALL OF IT.

(3) Are we trying to create lawyers? Lawyers are intellectually sharp, good speakers, quick thinkers and great writers and readers who can persuade a jury. Now some activities seem to be show the promise of an applicant in these areas. For example, if an applicant wins a writing contest, he demonstrates great lawyer potential in writing. If the applicant is a great debator or became some mayor at some small town that's great. But the problem with (3) is, most of the time people want law schools to include idiotic things like work experience in fields no related to law, or community service. While I applaud these acts, they have nothing to do with lawyering skills.

The purpose of US News is not to chastise law schools. It is to separate potential law students so the "good" ones go to the upper schools and the "crappier" ones go to the lower schools. There's nothing wrong with that beacuse in everything there is good and crap. Now the only reason why people piss and moan about these rankings is because of hiring. Everyone says if you go to a lower ranked school you can get prestigious gov't jobs or bad ass BIGLAW positions. Well put yourself into the shoes of employers for great jobs. Do you wanna risk hiring some lazy ass guy over a hard working graduate from a higher ranked school? Would YOU take that risk!?!? No you wouldn't, and these employers are the same. And we all know if you really are a superstar who will blossom in law school, even at a lower ranked one, then you will obviously finish in teh top 10% make order of coif and biglaw firms will still hire you. So stop trying to rig rankings and such just so those who didn't put in the effort can avoid the punishment and consequenes.


16. Posted by Joe on November 23, 2005 @ 14:18 | Permalink

I believe that it is unfair for those who worked hard to have (1) affect their GPA. (1) and (2) should never be put into affect. First off, just because you have work experience doesn't make you that much smarter or better. We all know that.

Now I personally don't have the stellar GPA and LSAT to get into a top law school but I believe you should get what you reap in terms of LSAT and GPA. If you didn't sober up until you were 21 and then started getting straight A's that's too bad. We can come up with a myriad of excuses and some lawyer out there can argue that maybe we should just count grades from classes we are interested in because they really show our potential. Shoot, why not let the students pick 10 class grades they feel represent themselves the best? (1) and (2) are slippery slops, if law school admissions let these two go there's no reason why they can't go further. They should count all of it (GPA+LSAT), ALL OF IT.

(3) Are we trying to create lawyers? Lawyers are intellectually sharp, good speakers, quick thinkers and great writers and readers who can persuade a jury. Now some activities seem to be show the promise of an applicant in these areas. For example, if an applicant wins a writing contest, he demonstrates great lawyer potential in writing. If the applicant is a great debator or became some mayor at some small town that's great. But the problem with (3) is, most of the time people want law schools to include idiotic things like work experience in fields no related to law, or community service. While I applaud these acts, they have nothing to do with lawyering skills.

The purpose of US News is not to chastise law schools. It is to separate potential law students so the "good" ones go to the upper schools and the "crappier" ones go to the lower schools. There's nothing wrong with that beacuse in everything there is good and crap. Now the only reason why people piss and moan about these rankings is because of hiring. Everyone says if you go to a lower ranked school you can get prestigious gov't jobs or bad ass BIGLAW positions. Well put yourself into the shoes of employers for great jobs. Do you wanna risk hiring some lazy ass guy over a hard working graduate from a higher ranked school? Would YOU take that risk!?!? No you wouldn't, and these employers are the same. And we all know if you really are a superstar who will blossom in law school, even at a lower ranked one, then you will obviously finish in teh top 10% make order of coif and biglaw firms will still hire you. So stop trying to rig rankings and such just so those who didn't put in the effort can avoid the punishment and consequenes.


17. Posted by Linda on March 14, 2006 @ 18:38 | Permalink

I am a 30 year old who just applied to law school, and I want my GPA to be counted. I worked very hard in undergraduate and grad school for my 3.9. On the other hand, I no longer test as well as I did ten years ago. I used to be a stellar standardized test taker, but did not do so well on my LSAT (89% vs. 98% on my GRE). Other older students do great on their LSAT, but have crappy GPAs. Thus looking at both criteria seems to be a good measure of somebody's ability to do well in an academic setting and to quickly grasp the logic of an arguement (the LSAT measures speed as much as anything else). Work experience should be counted like extra curriculars - I learned skills as a professor that should help me as a lawyer, but a student who is on the debate team would learn equally valuable skills. Grades + standardized test + soft factors is the standard admissions formula for almost any school. The first 2 criteria are used to rank almost all programs... Why should law school be different?


18. Posted by kmm on April 3, 2006 @ 16:34 | Permalink

Thank you, Ms. Hurt, for your fine post.

I attended law school very briefly 20 years ago, but was forced to withdraw as a result of very pressing family and financial problems. I mention my limited background as a law student in order to give the reader some sense of my perspective on the issues before us here.

After I left law school, I entered government service, but then entered the business world. I served as a marketing executive and general manager for 18 years or so. My work was such that I had close working relationships with experienced attorneys who earned their law degrees from schools at the upper end of the USNWR hierarchy. I knew many other attorneys socially and through my involvement in local politics, who attended schools ranging from the most to the least prestigious.

My perspective on the issues at hand is further informed by a return to the classroom two years ago where I earned an MS degree.

I suspect that the following may contribute to the admissions and USNWR rating fiasco, and be worthy of further thought and reform:

First, I believe undergraduate grading was more rigorous 20+ years ago than today. I base this opinion on close relationships I enjoyed with much younger students I met after I returned to graduate school in my mid 40's. More gentle grading is not, in my view, necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think grading was unreasonably harsh when I was an undergraduate. But, it is important to this discussion to recognize that grade inflation is a serious problem at many institutions. Accordingly, many students are placed at a disadvantage relative applicants who earned their degrees very recently or who attended one of the few schools who have always approached their business with rigor in mind. Schools like MIT, Georgia Tech, West Point, Cal Tech and others simply do not give "A" grades away for less that excellent work. What is more, the subject matter is - more often than not - very difficult. So, not all institutions are to blame. But, who is to blame? I believe that prestigious liberal arts colleges are more likely than others to drift in the direction of grade inflation. Harvard, for example, has been widely criticized for awarding more "A" grades than can be reasonably explained. There are many reasons for this, but one is simply that students at such schools tend to come from wealthy homes and their parents faithfully pony-up with financial support to the institution when called upon to do so. So, the administration has no desire to alienate students or their parents by damaging their futures with poor grades.

As a graduate student, I worked closely with three young women who held undergraduate degrees from very prestigious schools. When I use the word "prestigious", I refer to institutions that would certainly be listed as one of the top 5-7 small colleges in the nation. Not one of the three honor graduates would have been a "B" student at the state university I attended 20+ years ago.

The best student I encountered was a true polymath (double major in political science and biblical languages) who took his B.A. at a small, rural, college affilliated with the Assembiles of God churches. He wanted to go to law school. I thought he would be admitted without difficulty. His LSAT was 150. He put in countless hours of volunteer service at an urban "Gospel Mission" working in a kitchen that serves about 300 down and out folks every day. This fine young man who earned a solid 3.2 in a difficult degree program, applied to 12 law schools and gained admission at one. Yes, one! He was admitted to a part-time program in the northern Illinois area. He applied to a couple of part-time programs because he felt that the admissions offices might be more lenient where PT students are concerned. I'm glad he thought of this safety valve or he would have had to wait a full year to re-apply.

Secondly, there are many fine lawyers who hold diplomas from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Chicago and the like. No one can deny or overlook the enormous contributions that such institutions have made to American jusrisprudence, politics, government service, education, civil rights and liberties, and more. On the other hand, the worst lawyer I ever knew was a graduate of a "Top 5" institution and I have known graduates from distinguished schools such as the University of Texas, Vanderbilt and SMU who were truly imbeciles. On the other hand, I have also known two fine lawyers who attended Atlanta Law School, for over 100 years an unaccredited school in Atlanta of high quality. The school closed when Georgia State University opened an ABA accredited school that offered an evening program, saying that the the famous old school was no longer necessary. The Board was happy to step aside and allow GSU to meet the need for a night law school with a fully accredited degree. Hundreds of excellent lawyers were trained at Atlanta Law School and many went on to enjoy glorious careers as trial lawyers, Justices on the Georgia Supreme Court, and innumerable noteworthy accomplishments.

How can we reconcile the fact that truly great and utterly terrible lawyers are turned out by schools as diverse as the unaccredited Atlanta Law School on one hand, and Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Chicago on the other? Here's my take on the question: Some folks make good lawyers and others don't. A good law school that lays stress on practical matters of legal practice can certainly help one who has the potential to be a good lawyer to fully develop their talent. But, like the young student of the violin who is tone deaf, no amount of instruction will make her a virtuoso. My bother used to teach piano. he told many a parent that their child would never learn to play the piano after a meeting of ten minutes at the keyboard. He was thrown out of more than one home! But, he simply refused to take money for which he could give nothing of value in exchange.

A young man or woman who lacks the basic "stuff" of which good lawyers are made will never be a good lawyer. I'm not sure exactly what the "right stuff" is, but like pornography, I know it when I see it. If personal interviews were made a part of law school admissions, I'll bet most admissions committees would "know it"
too, when it presented itself. I do understand that they just can't interview thousands of people, though.

Thirdly, I am a little concerned about the high degree of influence exercised by the ABA and AALS on the practice of law. One need only revisit the facts surrounding the efforts of these organizations in the immediate post WWII era to eliminate "night law schools" to gain a basic understanding of the high degree of influence that they have on the accreditation, operation and life of law schools in every state. Readers who have time might benefit from exploring the history of these organizations and instutions like John Marshall in Chicago and Golden Gate in San Francisco. The Dean at John Marshall, Noble Lee, had an especially empoisoned relationship with them and terrible confrontations and public pronouncements were made that did violence to the reputation of the profession. Many unfortunate incidents took place that I hope will never be repeated.

Many argue that they ABA and AALS have long had a certain vision of what law schools should be and who they should serve. This vision, some say, is one that strives to intellecutalize the study and practice of law, to enhance the prestige of the practice of law - to put it on par with other scholarly pursuits such as classics and philosophy, all the while serving the interests of huge corporations, their law firms, and hordes of hopeful students who trade their very souls for partnership and a corner office at a premier (read BIG) law firms. I do not endorse conspiracy theories and I believe that the ABA and AALS are good organizations that largely advance the interests of the profession. At the same time, there may be some truth to claims that they favor prestigious schools and seek to serve the intersts of large, important firms and the clients they serve. I hasten to add that I do not know that this is true. The fact is that they are powerful organizations that control - to no small degree - entry into the legal profession and the practice of law once admitted to the bar - and the potential and abilty to shepherd the profession in an impartial and fair way might sometimes be compromised by personal interests of those who hold power. Please understand that I am not making any accusations against them. Rather, I wish to point out that they are powerful organizations and where there is a concentration of power, the potential for abuse of power exists also.

Fresh discussions and the advancement of new, even radical ideas, for reform of the present rating and admissions scheme are indicated. I certainly do not advocate going forward without the ABA or the other organizations - all voices should be heard and respected. But, no one voice should be allowed to drown out the voice or voices of less prominent participants.

In the end, the USNWR rating system is a harmful thing that discourages potentially excellent lawyers from even bothering to submit an application to schools whose ranking is high. After all, why spend $50-$75 to apply to a school like Harvard or Yale when USNWR makes it clear that there is no chance to be admitted with a GPA of 3.1 and an LSAT of 155? Who wants to waste the money? Even schools ranked at the bottom end of the top-tier schools would seem to be unattainable to many fine students.

Law schools must agree to refuse to provide information about their admission stats or processes. Deans, professors and others must refuse to answer their inquiries. They are motivated by profit - they don't care about the students or the institutions.

I believe law schools would also do well to appoint to their admission panels, several everyday people from all walks of life. Such a group might consist in bus drivers, sanitation workers, school teachers, union stewards, homemmakers and the like.

Ever application should be reviewed by the full admissions panel without revealing the GPA and/or LSAT score until the pool is reduced to the point that - of those remaining - 50% will be offered admission. These should then be personally or telephonically interviewed by the whole panel. Their goal should be to seat a class of decent, caring, bright people whose ambition and impulse to study law is based on a sound, sensible, noble, foundation.

In place of the USNWR rankings I suggest that the following procedure be used:

A. Create not-for-profit institution that has no connection to any school. The law schools would provide complete admissions details to this organization and it, in turn, would send investigators to the school annually.

B. Investigators would interview 20-30 students, administration, faculty and staff and create an in-depth report about the school from the perspective of each of these groups. At the same time, interviews should be conducted with regional employers and judges. Their unvarnished perspective should also appear in the final report.

C. The organization would create a very comprehensive report from the data provided by the school.

D. The completed reports could be offered for sale for online download (hardcopy at a higher price). Reports might be sold singly or in packages of 3,5,10 or 15. University libraries might buy the entire set. The organization that creates them would be funded by the sale of the reports. To the extent that sales were insufficient to meet the financial requirements of the organization, law schools could be billed fractionally based upon their ability to pay. That is to say, those with very large endowments would be assessed at a higher rate that schools less well off.

My analysis and proposal ends here. It may not make sense, but it seems to me to be an improvement. In any case, I have enjoyed the range of opinions advanced here. Thank you all.


19. Posted by Ann K. Levine on July 3, 2007 @ 10:06 | Permalink

Great article, great comments. I've been in the room many, many times to have the "rankings vs. interesting candidate" discussion. What about regional rankings? Wouldn't California attorneys rank Davis and Pepperdine and USD and Santa Clara differently (and more highly) than they would BU, GW and Indiana? And wouldn't they be right to do so? And, of course, vice versa on the East coast?


20. Posted by Alli on March 2, 2011 @ 13:27 | Permalink

Thanks for posting, it's interesting to see things from the perspective of someone on an admissions committee. And I agree with you, a GPA that is over 8 years old just does not seem like an accurate predictor of what kind of employee someone will be.

http://university-bound.com/programs

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Bloggers
Papers
Posts
Recent Comments
Popular Threads
Search The Glom
The Glom on Twitter
Archives by Topic
Archives by Date
January 2019
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
Miscellaneous Links