Verdict on New LSAT Format: Digital May Be Better

•July 23, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been talking to clients and others who took the digital form of the LSAT earlier in July. As a reminder, all LSATs from here on out will be in that format.

When LSAC announced the new format, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing, some from companies that were pushing people to take earlier tests. My view was that LSAC had thought this through (as they usually do) and that it would really make no difference for most test-takers. My only reservation was about older test-takers who may be less accustomed to reading on-screen than younger test-takers.

I’ve talked to a number of people who took the LSAT under the new format. Their verdict: if anything, this format is better. It eliminates some common careless errors (bubble sheet translation errors, for example). Older test-takers concurred, so my initial hesitation about age turns out, at least so far, to have been overly precious. My basic conclusion that the new format would make little, if any, difference, appears to be correct. No one has told me that the digital format was more troublesome.

Of course, all of these people had also practiced in the new format, so they were pretty clear about how it all worked going in. Although there are only a few tests available digitally now, even that number seemed sufficient, and I’m quite sure that LSAC will expand the number available in the future.

The keys to the best LSAT preparation, in short, are what they have always been; if anything, the new format eliminates some white noise in test-taking.

New ABA Accreditation Standard: Is Bar Passage Rate Change Enough?

•May 23, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The American Bar Association recently passed a new standard for accreditation for law schools, mandating that to maintain accreditation, at least 75% of graduates of a law school must pass the bar within two years. If they don’t, it doesn’t mean immediate loss of accreditation but the ABA will presumably monitor steps law schools take to fix the problem.

There is an excellent analysis of the ABA standard by Steven Chung in Above the Law. I won’t repeat his analysis, with which I mostly agree. It is well worth reading.  I am, however, less inclined to give credit to the critics of the ABA’s action.

I start from a fundamental premise. Law students are paying a ton, both in money and time, for a career. I understand that some people just want a kind of cool education, but the vast bulk of law school students want—and need—a decent job after graduation.

As a law school, if you can’t get 75% of your students in a position to meet one of the necessary requirements of getting a legal job, you’re either a pretty poor law school or you’re admitting people you know aren’t likely to pass the bar, or both. Either way, it’s hard to see why you should stay in business. Those who can and do pass the bar from those schools can find other schools; it’s not like the USA is short of law schools.

I even wonder—as I frequently wonder about ABA monitoring—whether the standard is high enough. Chung points out that very few law schools are likely going to be affected even by this standard. But why not an additional standard—one that sets a requirement that within 3 years, a certain percentage of graduates must have a job that requires a legal education?

Certainly, a small fraction of law school students don’t want a job as a lawyer, and are going into policy or investment banking or some other field, but believe that a J.D. will be useful for those careers as well. That is, however, a small fraction (like those who just want a legal education); most of the poor employment numbers at most law schools are because people want but can’t find a legal job. Most people are going to law school so they can be lawyers, it’s as simple as that.

There has to be some reasonable linkage between the cost of law school and the career opportunities it provides. The majority of law schools meet that standard but some do not. Maybe it’s time to cull those schools more firmly, so that law students as a group can get a better return on their investment.

Onscreen LSAT: Should It Change Your Plans?

•April 23, 2019 • 1 Comment

The Law School Admissions Council announced awhile back that July’s LSAT would be the last to be administered, at least partially, in the old pencil-and-paper format. The announcement was made without a lot of fuss but the LSAT industry immediately posted a bunch of blogs that opined on how important the shift was and largely tried to move up potential customers’ test date by instilling a little bit of fear about the new format.

As a result, I got a number of calls, some people in a bit of a panic wondering whether they should switch their date, for two reasons. First, some people were nervous (or panicked) about the onscreen switch generally). Second, there is an expanded cancellation option for the July test, so some thought, Well, it’s basically a “free” test. Since I’m giving a lot of free advice anyway, I figured I might as well make what I’m advising public.

My short answer is, with very few exceptions, Change nothing.

One key to getting your best LSAT score is ensuring that you have significant blocks of time several months prior to the test. As I tell prospective clients, it’s difficult to squeeze in work on the LSAT between a lot of other obligations. You have a job, ok; you have classes, ok. But you shouldn’t have much else if you can avoid it. You want blocks of time. The test format has nothing to do with that. You should schedule your test for the best time for you, irrespective of format.

The “free” cancellation policy is also not compelling. (LSAC describes this policy fully, as well as the format change, on this page, and you should read it carefully.) As my clients know, I am a believer in preparing for this test correctly—and once. I’ve also had several blog posts on this, and won’t repeat them (one of them is here). What is worth repeating here is that if you go in with the attitude that this isn’t the real deal, that you can always just cancel, you’re less likely to do your best—it’s just hard to put out of your mind that it’s playtime, not real time. If you have to repeat the LSAT, that’s ok, but that’s different than planning to do that from the start.

I also don’t think that the format change changes much. Again, you should carefully review the changes on LSAC’s site. The new format does mean you should prepare a little differently.  At the moment, there are a limited number of old LSATs available in digital, onscreen format, so it means that you will need to prepare with a mix of paper-and-pencil and digital materials. I am working out for my clients what I think is the best way to do that. I am also hoping that this will be a short-term problem and that LSAC will make sure that all tests are available in digital format soon.

The groups of people that I can imagine the digital format affecting adversely are older test-takers and those who are particularly susceptible to screen-induced eye strain. Older test-takers because some people (and they skew older) are slightly more comfortable doing serious reading on paper than in digital format (I count myself among those). But LSAT reading comprehension and logical reasoning are not, say, 20-page articles where flipping back and forth between pages is important. They are short passages, and you will be provided a stylus to mark what you need to mark.

The eye strain issue is more serious, in my view. It is another reason to prepare as much as you can in the digital format so that you can develop some eye endurance, in the same way that taking full 5-section tests is a way to build mental endurance.

Finally, there is an economic issue. That is, unfortunately, part and parcel of the test as a whole—can you pay for good LSAT preparation, all the test materials, etc.?—and this change does accentuate that. To practice the test on a tablet, you need to invest in a tablet. There are a lot of people who can’t, just as there are a lot of people who can’t afford high-quality LSAT preparation or committed law school admissions advising. It is an unfortunate fact, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. You don’t need the recent college admissions scandal to recognize that the playing field is not balanced, and the shift to a digital format unbalances it a little bit more.

But that is a long way from saying that you should pick your best date based on test format alone. In the abstract, July is as good a date as any to take the LSAT. You should pick your test date based on when you will be able to study for the test with the most dedication and the fewest distractions. If that’s July, great, take it in July. But if it’s not July, don’t let the test format become a distraction. In the end, it’s just a new feature of the landscape.  It may require small adjustments to what you otherwise would have done but it is the same test it has always been.

Deciding on Law School and the Law: Talk to Lawyers!

•August 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a good conversation in a recent ABA Journal on making a decision about whether law school—and more, the practice of law—is right for you.  The featured interviewees, Nicole Black and Heather Morse, talk about most of the relevant factors, which I’ve been talking about on this blog for years, and were motivators to open Advise-In Solutions—among them potential debt load, changes in the legal market, always having Plans B and C.  The latter is important in pretty much any job in the contemporary economy, and a good law degree significantly increases your job flexibility and puts you in a much stronger position to have realistic contingency plans.

I won’t summarize what Ms. Morse and Ms. Black say—it’s worth reading independently.  The one shortcoming in their presentation, though, was a strange one—I think they vastly underemphasize the importance of talking to as many lawyers as you can so that you know what you’re getting into.  That’s less important for law school; most applicants have a reasonable analogy to that in their prior educational experience.  Yes, law school is different but it’s still, well, school.

The practice of law is different.  And it’s much different between practice areas and firms.  I’m not talking about the distinction that Ms. Black and Ms. Morse emphasize the most—so-called “BigLaw” versus every other kind of law.  I’ve never known exactly what that means—the cultural differences between large firms are as significant as those between medium-size, small and boutique firms.  There are great large firms to work at, just as there are terrible ones (I was lucky in choosing my large firm, but I also did my due diligence to know that this place—and not some others—would be a great spot for me).  Same is true of every other size firm.  Size is not the issue, personality and compatibility is.

That’s why it’s important to talk to as many lawyers as you can—the more you talk with, the more you recognize the variety of legal practices and business environments.  The reason prospective law students get so many different evaluations of the benefits and dangers of the actual practice of law is because it really is that varied.  If you talk with lawyers (and they love to talk), you will be able to better decide if the practice of law in any form is what you want to do, and if it is, you’ll develop some criteria for evaluating potential employment opportunities after law school.  Some lawyers are bitter, some are happy, some are resigned, some simply would never want to do anything else.  If you talk with every type, you’ll start to figure out where you stand.

If you find the right place, the practice of law is rewarding and, as far as your colleagues and clients are concerned, pretty pleasant, despite the hours.  If you don’t, and I know this because I did and do talk to a lot of lawyers both before law, it can seem like one of the circles of hell in Dante.   So, as I’ve said on this blog before, know what you’re getting into—is law the right place for you or not–and be diligent about finding the right fit—is this place the right place to do what you want to do.

Expanded LSAT Opportunities: Implication for Law School Admissions?

•August 2, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The LSAT is now being administered six times a year rather than four.  In part, this is to try to head off the inroads that the GRE is making into the Law School Admission Council’s territory.  I’ve talked about the LSAT/GRE debate, which you can review here and here.

I haven’t talked about the impact of additional LSAT dates on law school admissions, partly because the expansion is new and no one really knows.  But I have talked about LSAT timing for admissions in the past, and the same principle still holds: the earlier you can finalize your admission package (including the LSAT score), the better.

Still, the schedule from September forward has changed.  There used to be a fall and winter test, and all else being equal, for next fall’s admission cycle, the fall test was better for admissions purposes—you were essentially in the first wave of applications that law schools reviewed (the June (and now July) test was marginally better, but it was a very small margin).

Now, instead of fall/winter, there are tests in September, November, January and March.  My guess is that the January and March tests will function much like the former February test—by the time they get results, it will be late winter, and a lot of the seats and money for law schools are already committed (especially for the March test).  If you’re taking those tests, you’re at a comparative disadvantage, less for the January cycle than for the March cycle.  That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take the test then—a higher score is always better, so if those are the times you can get your best score, that’s what you should do. My clients and I talk about scheduling for success a lot, and it’s something a lot of people don’t think about nearly as much as they should.  But you should be aware that you’re fitting into fewer slots and financial aid opportunities, and might consider taking the test but pushing applications back a year, particularly for the March test.

That leaves September and November.  September will almost certainly land you in the same place as the former fall test, and that’s a good spot.  But what about November?  Since there is no data on this, because admissions committees have never had two tests in the fall to work with, anything I’ll say is necessarily speculative.

But here goes.  My suspicion is that November will be treated more like the September test than January—maybe not as ideal as September but closer to it.  Here’s why.  First, a smaller proportion of people will take the September test than took the single fall test in the past.  That will reduce the number of seats and the amount of money that is committed by early November.

Second, the admission process generally takes (it seems) longer every year, so even the strong preference that I used to have for the fall test over the former December test has declined a bit in the last few years.

Finally, there’s just the calendar.  Because of finals and school breaks, less seems to get done on admissions decisions in December than in other months in the application cycle.  So, if you get your admissions materials in by early December, you’re in essentially the same position as all those on whom decisions have not been made but who took earlier tests.

What I actually suspect will happen is that wait lists will get a little longer for many law schools, as they themselves wait a bit more to see what the November test results bring.  Applicants themselves won’t see much change above the surface but decisions will be made a little differently at law schools.

A side benefit of the test expansion may be that that lengthening of the process will lessen any disadvantage from taking the January test.  I suspect there will still be some disadvantage, but again, that’s if all else is equal, not if you can get a measurably higher score in January that you could have previously.  A strong January score, along with a strong application package otherwise, will likely be somewhat more competitive than the same application package submitted from the former February test.

The ABA’s Abdication of Responsibility: Winners (Law Schools and The Bar Cartel) and Losers (Law Students) in the Rule Abandoning the LSAT (and Any Testing Requirement) for Law School Admissions

•June 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

One reason regulation gets a bad name is because of regulatory hypocrisy.  The American Bar Association’s logo banners: “Defending Liberty Pursuing Justice.”  I guess you have to ask “for whom?”

The ABA will bring to a full vote in August its proposal—approved by relevant committees of, well, the ABA—to “eliminate the requirement of a ‘valid and reliable test’ as part of a law school’s admissions process.”

I’ve criticized the ABA’s lack of oversight over the law school admission process and law schools before.  Just look in this blog’s index under “ABA” or “American Bar Association.”  But then the ABA appears to consider action, so I wait and hope.  But it always comes out the same.  Regulations that might actually rein in abusive law school practices (or improve the admissions process, or tighten admissions, or, well, you name any proposal in the interest of law students) go by the boards, while regulations, like this one, that respond to what law schools want, get adopted.

The regulation finally adopted by ABA committees wasn’t just to allow the GRE to be used alongside or in lieu of the LSAT, it was to say, Oh, who cares about any of it?

Well, law schools care (and the ABA is giving them a win), and prospective law students care (and the ABA is telling them to pound sand, in the guise of opening the process).

The reason to take off testing requirements is simply to respond to a tough market for law schools where a lot of law schools—many of whom probably shouldn’t be in business since what they do is put a lot of people in debt that they’ll never get out of—need bodies in seats to pay their bills.  As Vivia Chen says (and her article is well worth reading in full), “why do away with something like the LSAT that tests for logical thinking and critical analysis—the stuff that actually gives you a flavor of what law school entails?…The reason is obvious: Law schools are worried that they won’t have enough warm bodies to fill their seats so they want to make the application easy, breezy and spontaneous.  Just what society needs: More people diving heedlessly into the legal profession.”

You might think the new rule will be a win for prospective law students and future lawyers.  It’s not.  First, because the vast majority of law school applicants will still take a standardized test, and most of those will take the LSAT.  There is no requirement for law schools to insist on a standardized test but most can and will insist on one for their applicants.

Second,  because the cartel-like nature of bar admissions will continue.  State bar associations generally don’t determine bar passage on the basis of a score—not, you get 70%, you pass, for example—but on the basis of how many new lawyers the state bar association wants, to cover retirements, attrition and the like.  So some years you need a higher score and some years a lower score will be fine.

The reason for that is simple—it’s to protect current lawyers and make sure they don’t face too much, um, competition.  From better lawyers.  It’s why someone who passed, say, the Florida bar yesterday is able to practice in Florida whereas someone who has practiced superbly for 30 years elsewhere can’t practice in Florida because they haven’t passed the all-important Florida bar.  It has nothing to do with legal ability, and certain state bar associations are pretty up-front about that (at least behind closed doors while crowing publicly about protecting the public).  It’s to protect their cartel members.  Period.

That won’t change, so there’s no victory for prospective law student here.  The number of lawyers will still be determined anti-competitively.  Bar associations are a medieval guild and—if it were anyone other than lawyers doing it (maybe doctors, too)—it would violate antitrust laws.

So there’s no victory for prospective law students.  But there is a clear defeat.  It’s worth something to be able to look at test data to get a decent idea of who your prospective law school classmates will be.  The opportunity cost to go to law school is about a quarter of a million dollars, give or take a few bucks, and the thing about investment decisions like that is that you’d like the people you’re tossing money to to be pretty transparent.

What the ABA is about to do is eliminate what transparency there now is.  Now law schools will be able to fudge numbers with much wider latitude, giving you the impression that a student body is more accomplished than it actually is.  You will be more reliant simply on what law schools tell you, since the LSAT numbers—which weren’t a tremendous help but were some—are now off the boards as a reliable indicator of a student body.  If as a law school, I can get 50 people with high scores, and then admit a bunch of other people who have taken no standardized tests, my numbers (and likely my ranking) jump and I can provide applicants with a technically accurate yet utterly false picture of my class.   And one thing law schools are really good at is gaming the system.  Whatever the high-flown verbiage, this new rule will say simply “Game the system all you want.”  Or “Lie all you want while telling the truth.”  At the expense of law students, since only law schools can play the game.

This is regulatory capture in its fullest sense—the ABA is doing the bidding of those it is supposed to be regulating while doing nothing—harming, actually–those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of its regulation.

I guess this is ok for businesses like mine, since what law students will more and more need is guidance to see through the games that law schools will surely play, since the ABA has said happy hunting on law school candidates.  But avoiding the enhanced weaponry that the ABA has given law schools shouldn’t be necessary, not for people who can pay my fee, and not for people who can’t.  The ABA should do what it says its job is—defend liberty (for everyone) and pursue justice (for everyone) or it should stop saying it’s protecting prospective law students.  Or it should change its logo to say “Defending Liberty for Law Schools and Lawyers” and drop the nonsense about justice entirely.

But it won’t do any of that because then its jig would be up.  The ABA’s cynical regulatory cleverness is to give lip service to justice and liberty while doing, in the end, no more than protecting its own—law schools and current lawyers.   Not for the first time, the ABA should be ashamed.  But it isn’t—it will continue to spout self-righteous clap-trap about justice and liberty while doing the opposite.

20 Years of Law School Admissions and LSAT Prep—And Running

•May 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Tuesday was my wedding anniversary.  It occurred to me that I have been helping clients with law school admission, financial aid and LSAT preparation for longer than I have been married.  Both seem shorter than they’ve been.

I’ve been helping prospective law students for more than 20 years.  There are companies that are have been around longer but mostly they change out staff every year or two.  Most college and university pre-law advisors have been on the job for far less time than I have. 

Singular experience matters, as long as it doesn’t lead to tired, by-the-numbers work.  My clients make sure that mine doesn’t; they constantly present new challenges, or new twists on old challenges.  The law school and legal markets have changed over the years as well, from a hot market with too many applicants to a chillier one that caused some law schools to close and others to retrench.  Each of those changes causes shifts in how my clients and I approach our work, including the right application targets and financial aid possibilities.

Our success has been extraordinary.  From a very small client base, in the first year of Advise-In, clients secured admission to all of the top 20-ranked law schools.  We’ve only gotten stronger, helping clients secure in the last year, an average increase in their LSAT of over 13 points and over 40 percentiles.  Not the end of the story, of course, because the application package and admissions strategies make a tremendous difference in both admissions and financial aid awards.

So, 20 years of success and it keeps building.  We are looking forward to an even more impressive year next year…and the year after…and the year after that.  Just as in a successful marriage, commitment and dedication are two of the secrets.

 
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