First, a quick disclaimer (get used to writing these, future lawyers): when we say “law schools” we do not mean to speak for every single law school. There likely are a few outliers. But at the macro-level, here is what is going on.
Most law school Early Decision (ED) programs don’t provide the substantial boost that applicants believe. An analogy I often use is that a Las Vegas casino wouldn’t have a blackjack table that loses money. In blackjack, if a player follows perfect betting strategy, the house still wins, 50.5% of the time. Again, the casino would not have a blackjack table if this were not the case. Similarly, a law school isn’t under a compulsion to help you at the sacrifice to themselves. So they aren’t going to make wild admits from an ED program to threaten their LSAT/GPA/Diversity etc., especially early cycle when they are trying to reach target medians. Whether the school is looking at the data of their applicant pool on a daily (or even hourly) basis, or doing it more by feel and targets, if you are below both medians, a reverse splitter, and often a splitter, the school may deem you a possible admit but may want to wait to see what the class profile looks like first. Then it’s off to the regular pool you go. Basically all this means is, “We aren’t ready to admit you yet but want to take another look.” Note there are a few schools who may just put every ED applicant non-admit into the regular pool. Additionally, there are some schools that are much more likely to deny from the ED pool if they don’t think you have a shot than to put you into the regular pool. But *in general* you can assume that being placed into Regular Decision means “we want to look at you again when we have a more thorough look at our applicant pool, admit pool, and possible seat deposits – please hang tight.” Of course, hanging tight is often the most challenging part of the entire admissions process (see this blog for advice on that).
Why is being placed into RD not necessarily a bad thing? For starters, yield protection is more real than ever, hence the need for Why Essays, LOCIs, etc. What is the absolute best YP data point possible to a school? The fact that you applied ED, which tells them 100% that you were willing to go there and withdraw from all other schools. That data point carries with you to the regular pool all cycle long. I don’t have a great analogy here, but it would be like a video game boost that lasts for the eternity of the game, versus a set time period. When it comes to regular decision admission, that very data point also might be the thing that tips you over the top. And guess what? You now have scholarship leverage too (or can take a new LSAT score and apply to other schools, negotiate an admit with more $$$, etc.), and you may get a scholarship affixed to your RD admit, because you aren’t on a wait list.
Would you rather have been admitted ED? Probably – after all there was a reason you applied in the first place. But again, if you applied you should have because you needed a boost anyway. Good news! You are still going to get one – and that boost will stay with you until the last day of the waitlist.