The nation’s law schools, already faced with a crisis which is causing many to slash standards and class sizes, are now also alarmed by the cratering of the academic quality of those who are applying, a problem which affects everyone, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
He cites a recent study showing that while the pool of applicants to law schools has recently dropped by 39%, the decline in qualified applicants is down 61%.
The increased admission of academically unqualified candidates has already resulted in a growing number of accredited law schools admitting hundreds of students with only a very dismal chance of even passing the bar, much less being hired as lawyers.
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For example, in 2014, 74 out of 202 accredited law schools admitted classes consisting of at least 25% of students at high or greater risk of failing the bar, compared to only 30 such schools in 2010.
Indeed, we are already seeing dramatic increases in graduates flunking the bar exam.
For example, the California summer bar exam pass rate for the July exam was at an all time low, with only 43% able to demonstrate this minimal level of competence.
The AboveTheLaw website reported that “students with terrible LSAT scores are applying to law school in droves.” It bemoaned what it called a “law school brain drain” which “continues to wreak havoc” on the legal profession; one which has led to a “cycle of dismal bar exam passage rates, producing yet another generation of unhappy, unemployed, or underemployed law school graduates. This does not bode well for anyone,” it warns.
The ABA Journal reported that “those with good LSAT scores may be choosing to forgo law school,” noting declines in the academic quality of students admitted even to top law schools like Harvard and the University of Chicago.
The impact of less qualified students going to law school will be felt by everyone, because most law students are forced to take out federal loans which in many cases average over $100,000.
If, upon graduation, they are unable to obtain any legal position at all, much a well-paying legal attorney job, they are very unlikely to repay the loans, and taxpayers will be stuck with the tab.
The total amount of law school graduate debt is already well over $3 billion and climbing.
It’s important to recognize that we need good talented lawyers to create and enforce legal rights, to deal with the increasing complexity of international relationships and complex licensing agreements, to apply existing law to new scientific and technical developments, and to resolve the disputes, between both individuals and interest groups, which are inevitable in our complex society, in a way which is fair and also is seen as fair, says Banzhaf, noting just some roles lawyers can and do play.
If many law school graduates who entered with clearly inadequate academic credentials can’t get a job, or get a dead end position requiring little imagination or concern for social problems, we will all suffer, says Banzhaf, reminding us that 32 of the 55 framers of the U.S. Constitution were lawyers, and that skilled lawyers have helped make most of the great reforms of the 20th century possible.