At law schools which place a high degree of importance on the quality of the undergraduate institution, an applicant who appears to be a presumptive admit might be rejected if the school or course of study is believed to be too easy.
Most other presumptive admits who are not accepted have something negative in their file which causes their rejection. This could be an arrest record or honor code violation, a poor recommendation, or a poorly completed application. These factors are discussed further in "Minimizing the Risks."
Most presumptive denies and many discretionary applicants get rejected. Presumptive denies are applicants whose numbers do not warrant consideration. In the context of the World Series model, they are the people who will not add anything to the team. Their grades and LSAT score indicate that they are not brilliant enough to be a benefit, and there are no overriding reasons to accept them.
Many discretionary applicants will be rejected simply because there is no room for them. People whose numbers are close to the medians must show that they have something else to offer besides their numbers. Of course, the further away from the medians you are, the more you need to offer to be competitive.
People who get admitted with numbers lower than presumptive admit encompass the many other goals of the admission process. Most racial and ethnic minorities will be considered in this category, as will other people viewed as disadvantaged -- applicants with a physical disability, from an impoverished background, or who did not speak English as their first language.
The rationale in giving these applicants special consideration is that their lower numbers do not necessarily indicate less of an ability to succeed. In addition, the admissions officer may consider the diversity these students will offer to the student body. Applicants over the age of thirty may also be given special consideration for their diversity. A truly remarkable background may merit consideration for the diversity it will offer; however, "remarkable" is very difficult to define.
A good general rule is that if you personally know another person with a similar background or accomplishment who is applying to law school, you're not remarkable.
The admissions professional may admit applicants recommended by influential people despite their numbers, or a separate procedure (like sending the file to the Dean or to Alumni Giving) may be established for them. For more information on these applicants, see "Maximizing the Rewards."
The vast majority of people aren't rejected because their numbers are too low; many applicants are close to the presumptive admit mark, but offer nothing the school wants besides their numbers. Then sheer volume forces them to be rejected in favor of someone with the same numbers plus a little something extra. (For a look at how many applicants nationally have which index numbers, click here.)
What counts as "a little something extra" varies from school to school. By interviewing admissions officers and reading catalogs, I've amassed quite a bit of data about this, and put it up as my holiday gift in December, 1997. For a peek at what each law school seems to want, click here.