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Fewer LSATs show reduced undergrad interest in law

Marilyn Odendahl
December 4, 2013
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The continued drop in the number of people taking the LSAT has brought more worries about the future of law schools; however, many would-be applicants may just be waiting for the economy to improve before they try for admission.

In the past, Frank Rowen, assistant director of the career center at Ball State University, noticed undergraduates in any kind of major who felt they were good at logic and writing would consider attending law school. This was especially true for those students who were unsure of what they wanted to do after they got their bachelor’s degree.

The downturn in the economy, along with the stories of law school graduates not finding jobs and struggling under crushing student loan debt, have made undergraduates more hesitant, Rowen said. But they are not necessarily giving up on the idea of someday going to law school or working in the legal field.

While some students are passionate and committed to studying the law, Rowen said others are opting to get a job after graduation, gain a little real-world experience, then re-evaluate whether a law degree is something they truly want.

The number of LSATs administered is a gauge many law schools rely on as an indicator of how big the applicant pool will be. After a lengthy review, the American Bar Association decided earlier this year to retain the requirement for admissions testing. The association kept the standard that accredited law schools must select students from the pool of applicants who have taken an admissions test.

Since the most popular test is the LSAT, the number of individuals taking the exam provides the best indicator of the level of interest in law as a career.

According to the number of tests given, the interest has been falling in recent years.

Individuals taking the LSAT surged during the first part of the Great Recession, reaching a record 171,514 for the 2009-2010 test year. The number of tests administered has dropped since 2010 and fell to 112,515 in 2012-2013. This is lowest total of administered tests since 2000-2001 when 109,030 LSATs were given.

For Carlton Waterhouse, professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, the current situation reminds him of when he applied to law school. He enrolled in the early 1980s when the country was going through another crippling recession.

Waterhouse’s mother knew people with law degrees who could not find jobs as lawyers, and she discouraged her son from becoming an attorney. He now sees that same anxiety in his law students with some, responding to the economy and criticism of legal education, second guessing their decision to become lawyers.

Just as the market recovered in the 1980s, Waterhouse said the current economy will cycle upward and the law jobs will return. His confidence is based on his view that law is very jurisdictional and many of the things a lawyer does cannot be outsourced.

At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, Waterhouse led the effort to build a partnership between IU McKinney and Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy in Indianapolis. Law school faculty members teach the youngsters about various aspects of the law, and law school students serve as mentors and tutors.

Waterhouse said the partnership will expose the high school students to the law and the career opportunities and possibly get them thinking about earning a J.D. Although many of the Shortridge pupils would be the first in their families to attend college, the McKinney professor is not discouraged by the prospect that to become lawyers, these students will have to complete four years of college followed by three years of law school.

“I think when you can ignite in a person a curiosity and interest and appreciation of education, then there are a lot of opportunities that come out of that,” Waterhouse said. “I think if we can ignite the spark in many of these students, we can be really impressed with the result.”

Rowen is seeing an interest in the law with the students he counsels at Ball State. The glamour of being a trial lawyer like those depicted on television has faded, but students in the university’s legal studies program want a career in the legal field even if they cannot go to law school.

Working with the students who are thinking about law school, Rowen does not blatantly tell them not to go.

lsat“We’re definitely not telling students, ‘No law school for you,’” Rowen said. “It’s not our job to tell the students what to do. Our job is to help them understand the options and possibilities.”

He explains to the undergraduates how law school classes are different in rigor and design than their current college courses. Also, he helps the students explore all the things an attorney can do and the different ways a law degree can be used.

Along with the drop in individuals taking the LSAT, some in legal education are concerned about data that shows a decline in the number of applications from students at the elite universities and with the highest LSAT scores.

Waterhouse speculated the undergraduates who have strong academic records are not applying to law school because they have options elsewhere. Previously, these students chose to become attorneys because it was the most lucrative profession even though they may not have had any passion for the law. Now, with the change in the economy, some of these high achievers are deciding to pursue a medical degree or an MBA.

The shift in attitudes about law school among all undergraduates mirrors an earlier shift in college degrees in general, Rowen said. Previously, students could arrive on campus, complete a bachelor’s degree and then figure out where they wanted to work. A college degree practically guaranteed a job.

Today, with that guarantee gone, students have to be more thoughtful about preparing themselves for a career after graduation. Likewise, undergraduates who truly want to be attorneys are preparing themselves early for the academic challenges of law schools.

Typically by the sophomore year, Rowen’s students start planning for law school. Those who do not consider law school until their senior year are opting to wait awhile before applying.•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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