No, this does not mean anyone or everyone is not up to par this year (although this was my favorite guess at what the Dyson Effect is… thinking through what a Dyson does…). The Dyson Effect simply means that many applicants see themselves in a vacuum. To be fair, this happens every year.
In other words I get a good deal of the following. “Dear Spivey, I am a law school applicant from Western State with a LSAC computed uGPA of 3.5 and a 167 LSAT. Can you tell me if I will get into Eastern State or what my chances are?” My answer is, I do not know because I do not have the data that Eastern State (which is a great law school) has. I have past data, that is self reported by applicants, and you can too at lawschoolnumbers. And I have sparse, current data at lawschoolnumbers that may (probably is) or may not be reflective of the applicant pool in general this year. But what we do not know, and what is critically important, is where does Eastern Law sit at this moment with their median LSAT and uGPA, how many total applicants do they have, what have they forecasted and thus are shooting for? We can make guesses, but the earlier in the cycle it is, the less we know. And thus we do not know, given all these variables and more, where your data point rests among the others.
The above, of course, is true every year and quite frankly is not that problematic. Data at lawschoolnumbers, and even anecdotaly, can give us a rough guess and, as the cycle continues, a more precise estimate.
But perhaps more troubling, and what seems to be on the uptick, is along the lines of the following:
Applicant: “Spivey, I have a 2.1 uGPA and a 150 LSAT from Western State. I want to attend Princeton Law School, can you help me?
Me: “Well, I need to know more of your background but let me be upfront, Princeton’s median LSAT is a 180 and their median uGPA a 4.1. It’s really not going to happen there, we should cast a much wider net.”
Applicant: “Yeah I get that, here are my 'softs'…”
5 minutes later
Applicant: “So, let’s talk about Princeton Law some more”
This is what I call the “unique and beautiful snowflake syndrome” (okay, I don’t call it that, Fight Club did, and I simply repeat it for effect). I had it too, when I applied to the number 2 Business School in the nation and assumed once I interviewed I would be a sure-fire admit. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people who apply to law school have been successful at most of the things they have done. They (we) are used to “yes.” This yes, overtime, makes us see ourselves in a vacuum when, in fact, we are always being compared to others and the pyramid is getting more and more steep.
The good news — none of this has an impact on the application itself, the scholarship process, etc. It is simply a function of time/resource management. I am not here to crush anyone’s dreams and certainly there are outliers in every admission cycle where “softs” are so great they can elevate an application substantially. But I also know the mandate to an admissions dean is “increase our medians.” Think about US News & World Report rankings; there are only so many empirical components that change every year. Admissions numbers; LSAT, uGPA, and selectivity matter deeply to the school. My advice is still to go big, but do not go big in a vacuum. If you need to retake the LSAT for your dream school, retake it! (More on this in the countdown, though.) But if you need to consider more schools than just Princeton Law, that is a smart move too. There are many, many paths to meaningful, successful legal careers, and they sometimes come in surprising places