Number of LSAT Takers Jumps Sharply: Who’s That Good For?

•July 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Karen Sloan of the National Law Journal reported recently that the year-over-year number of LSAT takers rose by 20% in the 2017-17 cycle. Since that portends an increase in law school applications as well, that’s good news for law schools, some of whom have struggled in the last few years with declining admission numbers and declining standards for remaining admissions.

It’s moderately bad news for applicants, who—at least compared to the last few years—are likely to face a more competitive admissions market. That effect may be dulled somewhat if law schools respond by increasing their class size a bit but still, the market will be somewhat less favorable for applicants.

The less favorable market for applicants means that it’s more important to get your best LSAT score and assemble your best application package. Otherwise, you are likely to see fewer opportunities for admission and financial aid that you would have just a few years ago.

That much is obvious. What’s less obvious is why the numbers have increased so sharply, so quickly. Ms. Sloan hypothesizes a “Trump bump” but who knows. And it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that it’s hard to believe that 20% more people have suddenly investigated law school and a legal career and have decided that it’s a great idea. It’s quite likely that some of the increase is the result of a whim (or some kind of bump, if you will).

I always advise potential clients, sometimes to my financial detriment, to have a clear idea of why they want to go to law school, and an equally clear idea of the benefits (and drawbacks) of a legal career. With few exceptions, law school tuition is flat between schools, that is, you’ll pay almost the same amount for a law school which will provide significant career opportunities than from one that, well, doesn’t. A recent report on Ohio law schools shows how dangerous that can be. A lot of law school graduates are scuffling with high debt and, to say the least, not the income they expected.

I am a big booster of legal education and a career as a lawyer. They are extremely valuable, both for lawyers and society at large. But they’re not for everybody. Nor are they easy. Nor do you want to do most of your work just to pay off your student loan debt. So, you want to understand what legal careers are like and be pretty sure that that is what you want. If it is, then you want to do the smart things that will minimize your debt and maximize your opportunities—strengthen your grade point average if you’re still in college, do the best test preparation you can do, and produce a compelling application package, so that you’ll be in a position to trade off and negotiate financial aid and opportunity.

Retaking the LSAT: Factors (and Facts) You Should Consider

•June 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

When I first started Advise-In Solutions, one of my first blog posts—and advice I’ve given to countless prospective LSAT re-takers since—was about the factors you should consider when thinking about whether to retake the LSAT if you were not satisfied with your initial score.

The general points: avoid confirmation bias, and avoid thinking you are an exception to the data without clearly understanding why you think so.

I reread that post recently. I stand by everything I said there; it is all still true and important for people thinking about retaking the test to consider. The fact that test retake success data has barely budged in the intervening years simply confirms what I said there. Here’s the link.

LSAT Annual Testing Dates Increase in 2018-2019: What the Change Means (So Far)

•June 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

For years, the LSAT has been offered 4 times per cycle, in June, September/October, December and February. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) recently changed that. In 2018-2019, the test will be offered in June, September and November 2018, and January and March 2019. The list of dates is available from LSAC.

LSAC has essentially moved the fall test to early September, shifted the December test to mid-November (before U.S. Thanksgiving), done away with the February test and substituted both January and March for it.

What does this mean for law school applicants who are planning to take the LSAT? The first thing it means it that you’ll have more options. You should still plan carefully, something far too few applicants do. Think a few months in front of the exam to try to ensure that you’ll be able to dedicate blocks of time for your LSAT prep. You may have a full-time job, as I did, or classes, but you should try to reduce your commitments as much as you can during your LSAT prep.

For those with full-time work, there isn’t really any general plus or minus to the new times, since there really isn’t any general work schedule in the contemporary economy. But the increased number of dates does allow you a little more flexibility in your planning.

For college students, the new early September date is probably generally better than the later September/early October date was. Since the test is now the Saturday after Labor Day in the U.S., for American students especially, many will now only bump up against their first week of classes rather than their first four or 5 weeks. That’s good all the way around, and will allow students to focus on the LSAT and then their classes rather than navigating a divided focus. It was always manageable to do that, but so much the better that it will not need to be managed anymore.

The other changes seem less consequential and really depend, for students, on when classes and finals end in the fall. Colleges and universities are varied in their end dates so, as with fulltime workers, the new options for either January or March do make things a little more flexible.

One unanswered question is what law schools will do. Previously, it was better from an admissions perspective to take the June or fall LSATs, with December being a little less desirable (but still ok, depending on your situation and how much better you were confident you could do on the December LSAT) and February being much less desirable for fall of the same year. I advise my February cycle clients that their admissions and financial aid opportunities will be stronger if they apply for the fall of the next year rather than the current year—so, for example, a February 2017 score has more value in the fall 2018 admissions cycle than the fall 2017 cycle.

It is not clear whether that will be true of both the new January and March dates, just the March date, or neither. Law schools will surely announce policies and it’s worth paying close attention to what those policies say and—sometimes—do not say. We’ll stay tuned, too.

On balance, the new scheduling options provide just that—more options, and that’s generally good for law school applicants, so long as applicants use them as an opportunity to plan when they can achieve their best LSAT score.

June 2017 LSAT Two Weeks Away: Why it’s Time for Consolidation, Not Innovation

•May 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Two weeks in front of the LSAT, test-takers understandably start to feel a little nervous. If you’ve properly prepared for the test, your nerves should be more in anticipation than fear. It’s time to consolidate what you’ve done and fine-tune it; it’s not time to innovate or develop entirely new strategies. If you need to do the latter, it may be because you haven’t done what you need to have done up until now, and you might consider whether the June test date is the right one for your to obtain your best LSAT score .

The reason is integral to the demands of the LSAT. A test-taker needs to have two related but distinct abilities. First, you have to understand the content of the test—what you are supposed to do to get the correct answer on any question. The second element is test-taking. Understanding what you are supposed to do doesn’t help you unless you can actually do it.

It is shocking how many points people leave on the table not because they don’t know what to do but because they don’t do it consistently. Equally shocking is that very few LSAT prep programs (to my knowledge, none other than Advise-In) focus on test-taking at all. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t use any LSAT prep programs when I prepared for the LSAT and it’s why Advise-In programs put a lot of attention and labor into test-taking.

And this is why consolidation and fine-tuning should be the principal foci of the last couple of weeks of preparation before taking the LSAT. You should have been paying attention to both understanding and test-taking all the way through your preparation, but the emphasis changes over time. When you start, you have to focus more on understanding content and the proper process for getting to the right answer.

But by this point, you should be clear on content—how to recognize what type of question you have in front of you and the steps you use to attack it so that your process yields the correct answer. You can fine-tune some of that in the last couple of weeks but your understanding of content should be firm.

What the last few weeks of LSAT preparation should be focused on is test-taking, consolidating what you know and executing it efficiently. If you’re not in position to shift emphasis, you may not be in position to take the test to obtain your highest LSAT score.

You should also be getting yourself into your exam week schedule—to the extent possible (it’s not always possible to do it perfectly, since you may have a job or classes or exams), you want to get into a routine that you will follow through to test day, so the same meal times, same bedtime and wakeup time, same preparation times, etc. You want test day to feel, as much as it can, like just another day, when you can go in, show what you can do and walk out with your best LSAT score.

What Technology Means for Legal Employment

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

An excellent article in the Financial Times is a must-read for law school students to better understand the future legal market. Though focused on the UK, the same considerations apply in the US. Instead of emphasizing online legal services, like LegalZoom, the FT rightly emphasizes the impact on junior lawyers of new legal search technology.

A brief summary: the work that junior lawyers used to do—due diligence, sifting through hundreds of thousands of e-mails in discovery, and corporate data rooms—is increasingly no longer human work but algorithmic work. Lawyers are still necessary to interpret results but legal search technology is both infinitely faster and probably more accurate in developing basic search results and data. Search technology doesn’t get tired or sloppy.

There is good news and bad news here. First, the bad news. The kind of work that search technology can do better used to comprise an astonishing proportion of junior lawyer work. It still comprises a lot but the digital handwriting is on the wall. Those jobs simply will not exist in a few years—law firms and their clients would rather not pay people when they can license software for a lot less.

So, a lot of legal sector jobs simply won’t be there in 5 or 10 years. Now, there’s an assumption here, which is that the rest of the legal market won’t change in such a way as to produce a countervailing supply of jobs. After all, 25 years ago, there was really no such thing as internet-related law because there was no internet.   There is now and that sector has created a lot of jobs in the legal market and elsewhere.

Technology’s negative effect on legal employment also won’t be distributed evenly geographically. It will likely have a more serious impact on lawyers in large urban areas—the smaller markets of smaller cities and rural areas will be less affected. Still, it’s hard to see how the legal market 15 years from now looks much like the market now, and it’s likely that, net, there will be fewer jobs for lawyers. The bad news might not be so bad but it’s still bad.

There is a lot of good news behind the curtain, however. It’s this: precisely the grinding, late night, soul-crushing work that technology will do is why a lot of lawyers were very unhappy at being lawyers. No one enters the legal profession to be a master of discovery or due diligence. Many lawyers never got the chance to do the higher level work that stimulated their desire to practice law in the first place—they simply left the profession. Or they got sucked into trying to make a living from being diligence kings and queens; when they didn’t develop higher-tier skills, eventually found their colleagues passing them by, and couldn’t stay at the very firms that asked them to do brain-crushing work in the first place. Some left the profession voluntarily, others involuntarily. They had JDs but were never lawyers. That’s also more an urban phenomenon than a rural or small town one.

What legal technology allows lawyers to do, then, is to be, well, lawyers. Counselors. Because the lower level work will be largely off their plates. There may be fewer legal jobs, but there is reason to hope that those that remain will be much better jobs, lawyerly jobs counseling clients and solving problems. That’s why people want to be lawyers. Technology may allow a much higher proportion of those with law degrees to be lawyers.

You’re In the Money: Negotiating Financial Aid with Law Schools

•April 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Law school is expensive. On average, law school—after including living expenses, your inability to hold full-time work for at least the first year of law school, and everything else—will cost well over $200,000 in the U.S. That’s a conservative number. The quality and reputation of a law school isn’t a significant factor—“top” law schools are not much more expensive than “bottom” law schools. There are exceptions—for residents, state law schools are generally less expensive. Outside of that, though, there is sticker shock.

But…law schools also have a fair amount of merit-based money for students they want. I am always surprised that Advise-In Solutions seems to be the only law school advisor that helps its clients negotiate financial aid with law schools. More important, I’m focused on financial aid from the start, which affects LSAT preparation and the care with which my clients and I assemble their admissions packages—personal statement, diversity statement, reference letters, resume, etc. It’s all designed to put clients in their best admissions position—and their best financial negotiation position. The claims on the internet (and by a lot of LSAT companies) that the LSAT is all that matters are demonstrably false. Every piece of paper or e-mail you send to law schools matters—some more than others but they all matter and you want to design all of them for maximum positive impact.

We also carefully stage applications so that there is a “ladder” to manage offers against each other. A significant financial aid offer at a given school is more likely to make a school in the same reputational neighborhood make a similar offer or move its offer up than is an offer at a school that is further distant on the reputational scale. But a careful laddering of applications opens the possibility of moving pretty far up the reputational ladder by progressively leveraging offers. It doesn’t always work, but it works enough of the time to make clients’ top law school choices a lot cheaper for them than they were originally.

All of that requires a careful and tactful approach. Although law schools have generally gotten much more open about explicitly negotiating competitive offers, still, no one likes to think that someone is trying to mug them. So when speaking to law schools, it’s important to not say certain things, to decide in each case whether a phone call would be better than an e-mail or letter (or vice versa), not to nag them, etc.—those communications, too, all should be designed for maximum positive impact, both in content and timing. These are negotiations, not ultimatums. And schools often really do want to be helpful, so making a friend matters.

There’s one important qualifier to all of this—the up-front money isn’t everything. Just last week, I had a client decline an extremely generous offer from a top 10 school for another school whose offer had become more attractive because of our negotiations—but was still far short of the declined offer. It was the right decision because of the particularities of my client’s career aspirations. The programs and job market for the kind of position my client wanted were simply better at the less generous school, so that the long-term advantage shifted to the less generous school—because they were more likely to be more “generous” to my client’s career, and the likely advantage there more than made up for the lesser upfront money. It’s a little wrenching to give up short-term money (especially if it’s a lot) for long-term opportunities but it can often be the right choice.

And that gets to another point—you can’t approach financial aid in a vacuum. You need to do due diligence on schools to determine their long-term value for what you want out of law school. That’s another area where admissions advisors generally don’t help much. But they should, because getting into law school is a lot less important than getting into the right law school for you.

ABA Proposal to Reduce Full-Time Faculty Requirement: Law Students (Present and Future) Should Make Their Voices Heard

•April 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The ABA’s proposal to jettison the requirement that full-time faculty teach the majority of upper-level courses is a terrible idea. The ABA is proposing to replicate what undergraduate institutions have been doing with adjunct faculty, with no protections for students. Undergraduate costs haven’t declined, they’ve skyrocketed—schools have simply pocketed the extra money. Educational quality hasn’t improved and—an important factor—faculty have no commitment to either the institution the institution at which they work and the students whom they are charged to educate. You hire part-time, you will get part-commitment. It hasn’t worked in undergraduate education, except to increase school income, and it’s less likely to work in law schools. I discussed the merits of the proposal more fully a couple of weeks ago.

If you’re in law school now, or are thinking about going, or if you care about the quality of your lawyer, you should take up the ABA on its invitation to comment on the proposed change. It passed committee in March and the ABA will vote on the proposal in July. We all want better law schools and lawyers. The ABA should have to explain clearly how this proposal does that.

Here’s an excerpt from the ABA’s memo with instructions on how to comment:

“We solicit and encourage written comments on the proposed changes listed above by e-mail. Written comments should be submitted no later than Monday, July 10, 2017.

A hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for Thursday, July 13, 2017, at 1 p.m. The hearing will be held at American Bar Association (321 N. Clark St.).

Please address written comments on the proposals and requests to speak at or attend the hearing to JR Clark,, by Monday, July 10, 2017.”

If you care about the quality of legal education, make a comment. The earlier, the better. There’s no need to vituperate à la Twitter. Firm and polite comments are likely to mean more; the sheer volume of them will also matter. The ABA has to understand that it can’t just be in the business of feathering the business of law schools. It has to know, because it seems to have forgotten, that high quality education matters to law students. And to the quality of legal advice that clients of those law students will receive.

%d bloggers like this: