05 February 2009

What Does It Take To Get Into Law School?

Law school admissions are more "numbers driven" than undergraduate college admissions at most colleges and universities, and is also more "numbers driven" than almost any other type of graduate school. The latest data on the subject, according to David Bernstein, who does not link to his source, is as follows:

For applicants to law school for Fall 2007, the average "Caucasian/White" applicant to law school had an LSAT score of 154.9, and an undergraduate GPA of 3.32. The average "Black/African American" applicant had a LSAT score of 143.7 and an undergraduate GPA of 2.96. The standard deviation for LSAT scores is 9.97.

For law school matriculants in Fall 2007, the averages were 158/3.40 for whites, and 150/3.16 for African Americans.

Asian Americans had very similar scores to whites, on average, and Hispanics' scores were very close to midpoint between the scores of whites/Asians and African Americans.

This is, of course, not the whole story. A large percentage of matriculants (admitted law students) have below average LSAT scores and GPAs. Most law schools consider historical data on grade inflation at your undergraduate institution, which the law school data assembly service conveniently makes available to them. Grade trends, essays, recommendations, legacy considerations, race, geography, undergraduate major and other elements of your personal story can also make a significant difference at the margins. No particular undergraduate major is required and there are no courses that a pre-requisite to law school attendance.

But, if your grades and LSATs are at or near the average for matriculated law students, you have a very good chance of being admitted to law school somewhere, if you apply to schools with a range of selectivity (i.e. if you apply to a safety school or two appropriate to your grades and test scores). On the other hand, if your grades and LSATs are well below the average for matriculated law students, you need to carefully study the details of admissions practices at various law schools and apply to as many schools where you have some chance of being admitted as possible, if this gives you a real chance of being admitted.

The empirical evidence suggests that one needs roughly a 2.8 undergraduate GPA and 149 LSAT score (a score which is at roughly the 40th percentile for LSAT test takers) to have a realistic chance of passing the bar exam. A certain amount of tradeoff between grades and LSAT scores is possible, if high grades do not simply represent grade inflation at your undergraduate institution relative to other colleges and universities.

If your grades and test scores are not at that level, you should seriously consider some endeavor other than law school, which is very expensive, does not have widely available grant aid, and is a poor use of your time if you don't end up getting admitted to the bar.


Steve Balboni said...

Never took the bar but while the loans are expensive (and I had a partial scholarship) I don't regret going at all. A JD is fairly versatile and garners, in my experience, a level of respect for the holder that a MPP or MPA just can't match. If you're looking into politics and public policy a law degree will open some doors for you.

Good info Andrew, thanks for sharing. My LSATs were high, my GPA was middling (though not low). Law school was a tremendous challenge but it honed my analytical and logic skills and I think prepared me for the political work I do now.

Anonymous said...

if you can't get into a top school, don't bother. There are enough mediocre to bad lawyers around.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Actually, once you pass the bar and get a first job, the law school that you went to matters very little.

Lots of people barely pass the bar exam, and get mediocre grades in law school, but go onto very renumerative careers that also do a lot of good for their clients. The qualities required of a good practicing lawyer are very different from those that are important for law school admission and bar exam passage.

The practice of law is more administrative and bureaucratic than the law school.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Incidentally, while the economic benefits of a law degree are great, regardless of the acredited law school that you attend, the benefits of an MBA from a less presitigious school are far more questionable.

An MBA is not governmentally required for almost any job, and most businesses will accept proven busines success in lieu of a degree. There are a few niches in the world of big business where that is the case, particularly in the VC world and on Wall Street, and in senior management a some Fortune 500 companies, but it has far less utility on average.

Drewsco said...

Anonymous stated that if you can't get into a top law school, don't bother. I think however he overlooks a significant point. There isn't a significant correlation between what lawyers earn and what law school they attended. Many Ivy league law school graduates usually either work as clerks in the Federal Court system, teach, or work for a corporate firm in a big city. However, if you examine the lawyers who are sole practitioner, or are partners in law firms earning over $300,000 a year. The majority of them went to tier 1 or 2 schools. However what really matters for those seeking the services of an attorney in a field such as a personal injury attorney is how many cases( and the type of cases) they have won, not where they went to law school.

In conclusion, having a degree from a top tier Ivy League is a great asset at the beginning of your career, but in the end, its individual talent that matters most......Don't believe the hype about law school rankings.