Getting Into Law School Is Easier Than It Used to Be, and That's Not Good

Even elite law schools now accept students with significantly lower LSAT scores

The Emory University School of Law in Atlanta

The Emory University School of Law in Atlanta

Philip McCollum/Bloomberg News.

Getting into law school with low test scores is easier than it used to be. 

Low scores on the Law School Admission Test have dipped at most schools in recent years, a new report shows. A paper released last month by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the nonprofit that creates part of the bar exam, shows that since 2010, 95 percent of the 196 U.S. law schools at least partially accredited by the American Bar Association for which the NCBE had data lowered their standards for students near the bottom of the pack. The NCBE compiled data from the American Bar Association and the Law School Admission Council, the group that administers the LSAT, to illustrate the decline in LSAT scores for students at the 25th percentile—meaning, the students who were at the very top of the bottom quartile of students.

Standards aren't just falling at lower-tier schools—Emory University, ranked among the top 20 U.S. law schools by U.S. News and World Report, had the single largest drop in LSAT scores for this group, enrolling bottom-tier students who'd scored nine points worse than three years earlier (on a test where 120 is the lowest score and 180 is the highest score.) In fact, 20 of the 22 U.S. News top-20 schools—there was a three-way tie for 20th place—were enrolling students with lower test scores. Across all schools, LSAT scores for the 25th percentile dropped an average of three points. 

LSAT scores matter because they tend to correlate closely with scores on one section of the bar exam, so when schools admit lower-scoring students on the former test, they risk producing more graduates who have a hard time passing the bar. The median LSAT score across all schools has also declined, by 1.7 points from 2010-13, according to the LSAC. Academically weaker students aren't the only thing threatening U.S. law schools—first-year enrollment is down 28 percent across ABA-accredited schools since 2010. Emory's enrollment declined 21 percent from 2010 to 2013. 

Below are the schools that saw the 25th-percentile LSAT score drop the most of over 200 accredited U.S. law schools from 2010 to 2013.

Emory University (Change in 25th-percentile LSAT score: -9 points)

Charlotte School of Law (-7 points)

Elon University (-7 points)

Suffolk University (-7 points)

Arizona Summit Law School  (-7 points)

Valparaiso University (-6 points)

Baylor University (-6 points)

Willamette University (-6 points)

University of Illinois (-6 points)

Faulkner University (-6 points)

Western New England University (-6 points)

University of Arizona (-6 points)

Villanova University (-6 points)

New England School of Law (-6 points)

Vermont Law School (-6 points)

Ave Maria School of Law (-6 points)

Mercer University (-5 points)

Samford University (-5 points)

American University (-5 points)

Georgetown (-5 points)

University of South Dakota (-5 points)

Pepperdine University (-5 points)

University of Buffalo-SUNY (-5 points)

DePaul University (-5 points)

University of California-Hastings (-5 points)

Northwestern University (-5 points)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law (-5 points)

Brooklyn Law School (-5 points)

John Marshall Law School (-5 points)

Whittier College (-5 points)

Pace University (-5 points)

Capital University (-5 points)

Charleston School of Law (-5 points)

Catholic University of America (-5 points)

Hofstra University (-5 points)

Florida Coastal School of Law (-5 points)

University of Dayton (-5 points)

Correction, Jan. 9: the second paragraph, which cited an incorrect percent drop in Emory's LSAT scores. 

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