Daily Egyptian

Law school admissions standards dropping the bar

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE

Law school admissions are dropping across the country, according to the Law School Admission Council, and the SIU School of Law is no exception. 

SIU’s Law School Admission Test 25th percentile score — representing the bottom 25 percent of the class — dropped from 151 in 2010 to 144 for 2014, a sign that admission standards have steadily decreased. Similarly, the school’s median LSAT scores dropped from 153 in 2010 to 149 in 2015.

In many cases, a score of 150 qualifies a student for being at risk to pass the Bar exam, but Christopher Behan, associate dean of academic affairs, said it is not a magic number.

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“Like any large standardized test, the LSAT isn’t a predictor for everyone,” Behan said. “There are folks who may not have had some of the same educational advantages as other folks … and there’s people who may not have time to study for it.”

Behan said one student, Joe Cervantez, was stationed in Afghanistan a few years ago and when he had some time off, he took the LSAT. He said his LSAT score did not represent his abilities, and Cervantez — who was admitted — passed the Bar on the first time. 

Cervantez, who was admitted during fall 2014, said attending law school allowed him to change his life. Cervantez, a high school drop-out, said his parents died when he was a child and he was shuffled through homes and poor schools.

“I gave up on school completely,” Cervantez remembers thinking. “It’s not for me. I’m not one of the ones that’s going to make it … I barely made it into the military.” 

Cervantez now serves as an assistant state’s attorney in Williamson County.

“You could probably find as many different explanations for why the Bar passage rate has gone down nationally as you could find points of view,” Behan said. “There’s a lot of different stakeholders that have different things to say.”

For Dean Cynthia Fountaine, LSAT scores are important and factors used in the application process, but not the only one.

Fountaine said undergraduate GPA is another indicator of first-year law school performance. Median undergraduate GPA for students in the school has not dipped below 3.0, but has experienced a steady drop-off from 3.3 since 2012.

SIUC’s Bar exam passage rate for first-time takers in the last six year has been on par with the Illinois state average, which has dropped from nearly 91 percent in 2009 to almost 85 percent in 2014.

“We’re a small law school, so we have a small number of students taking the Bar,” Fountaine said. “Any failures really affect our pass rate. Sometimes it’s very hard to put our finger on exactly what caused a decrease.”

He said the law school which admits about 120 to 130 students a year  evaluates how it can better meet the needs of students with each Bar exam, whether that be student interventions, additional preparation resources or curriculum changes.

Law school applications have also declined across the nation. The Law School Admission Council reported a drop in applicants from 73,000 in 2010 to 53,000 in 2014. 

Fountaine said a drop in law school graduate employment since 2010 may contribute to the enrollment decline. During that period, students questioned if law was a viable career choice, Behan said.

“It’s sort of a lagging indicator in the economy,” Behan said. “Lawyers tend to lose jobs later than other people, but also not get jobs as early as other people when the economy starts to improve.”

The School of Law reports a 68 percent full time, non-school funded employment rate for 2014 graduates — 8 percent higher than the national average. 

Because of predictive factors, such as an increased number of people taking the LSAT in October and an increase in the Law School Admission Council recruitment forum attendance, Fountaine and Behan are optimistic that application figures will increase in the future. 

“What do you do with the person who got a 146 or a 147 that is going to be a good lawyer if you give them the right education and the right tools?” Behan asked. “There has to be opportunities for a lot of people on the spectrum.”

Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3326

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