1 — The "bump" this year looks more like an outlier than a trend, especially at the top.
For starters, it has followed seven years of down cycles — so the macro trend is still down. How down? The 56,900 CAS registrations this year are almost 30,000 fewer than the high water mark in 2009-2010, and CAS was only first introduced by LSAC in 2009-2010. Additionally, when the cycle started, applications were up 17.1% and applicants were up 14.2%, and now they are down to 8.5% in applicants and 9.2% in applications. Some of the excitement about an “up” cycle is lodged in the early splashy numbers, and some is grounded in the fact that the number of LSAT test-scorers at 160+ are up over 20%. But consider this article from Above the Law.
Additionally, if you go back and dive into the final cycle data from the past 4-6 years, what do you see? The top has yo-yo’d each year. Meaning the more stable trend has been "up one year — down the next." Despite the unlimited retakes (see section 5, below), and partially because of the historic bounce and sensitivity to scorers in each band, we think it is more likely that there will be a dampening of scores 160+ than an increase relative to this current cycle.
2 — Nationwide college enrollment is down.
Down 1.5%, per the National Student Clearinghouse. That's about 224,000 students. What do you need to apply to law school? A degree from an accredited university or college. This isn't instrumental in our predictions, and doesn’t factor in the small percentage of applicants from non-US degree granting institutions, but certainly enrollment isn't going up. For us to be more confident in a sustained upward trend, we’d want to see increasing undergraduate enrollment, not decreasing.
3 — The "Trump Bump" we foresaw last year won't be nearly as pronounced this year.
Why? Because the bump was a psychological state reaction, not a groundswell “go to law school” movement that happened over time. Our friends and colleagues in admissions offices nationally have been referencing the extreme number of election based Personal Statements, but will there be an increase next cycle in essays about "I very much disagree with our stance on Syria intervention?" No, there won't be. A number of people were hot over the surprising election result and decided to apply. Additionally, it's normal to see an increase the year after an election from the people who were working on campaigns up through the November before who then focus on applying the following year — so although “Trump” bumped it this year, elections normally give a small bump anyway. That was a bounce that won't spike applications this coming cycle.
4 — But what about the GRE?
There isn't any data yet that the GRE will expand the overall applicant pool, and that is including looking at this past cycle bump. The current, limited data is that people who took only the GRE are an extremely small number and were interested in a specific law school. Over a two day period this weekend, the ABA will debate the rule about requiring a test at all. If the ABA abolished the rule for any standardized test, we expect that to impact admissions policies in the 2019/2020 cycle, but not before that.
5 — What about the unlimited LSAT takes?
Unlimited LSAT takes won’t impact the application volume, and given the consistency of most (not all) test-takers, it might not impact an increase in LSAT scores as much as one might think. As of the most recently available data, people who retake the LSAT in the 150+ range only score on average 1 to 2 points higher, with that number going down even further in the 165+ range per LSAC (note that we frequently encourage clients, whose backgrounds and test-taking we are familiar with, to retake since the high score is incredibly relevant in admissions and even a 1-2 point increase can yield much better results and scholarship consideration. Also note that this is overall data and doesn’t predict what any one individual can do. We have seen LSAT scores well into the upper 20 point increase).
6 — And jobs?
Per remarks by Jim Leipold, Executive Director for The National Association of Law Placement (NALP) at a summit this very week on the future of legal education, there is a push-pull between admissions offices and the employment landscape. This intimates that law schools may be inclined to increase enrollment in the fall. He then further noted that the number of new lawyer positions has continued to decrease — employment gains are because law school have fewer graduates. In respect to admissions alone (and I’d stress alone), both of these vectors are good for someone applying next cycle. Again, purely for admissions outcomes alone, you would want an increase in enrollment at law schools and you would want a job market that isn’t heightened. The first point being that it increases your odds of admission, and the second point being that it would likely lead to fewer applicants.
Want to be reassured? This is our 4th year of predictions, and in the previous three we have been fortunate enough to be close to spot-on estimating the upcoming cycles. It's also one of the things law schools hire us to do, so we talk to scores upon scores of deans, LSAT prep companies, and other experts on an almost weekly basis. We aren’t the only ones with this prediction.
Want a reason for concern? This has been far and away the most difficult upcoming cycle to predict for us.
Final analysis and prediction. Look for next cycle to start off hot with the extra July test and with a good number of re-applicants. But by the end of the summer in 2019, we think you will see applicants about flat compared to this year, and the number of applicants with LSAT scores in the 160-180 range down.
Disclaimer: these are predictions. Predictions are difficult. If you are making a decision to reapply next year based of these predictions alone, you are not accounting for your individual situation. You should at minimum talk to people who are part of the decision-making process with you.