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The "World Series" Model
of Law School Admissions

Back in the idyllic 1980s, law schools used what I called the “Party Model” to fill their classrooms:  who would be fun and interesting to teach?  Who would add to the dialogue?

By the mid-1990s, anti-affirmative action litigation (what I see as racist and narrow views of our society) and the fear of it forced schools away from the Party model toward a broader definition of diversity, one that I call the "Jelly Donut" model of admissions. 

Then, around  2006, USNews played a dirty trick on law schools; they decided that they didn't believe the data they were given, so instead of using it, they invented their own.  The problem centered around their misunderstanding of the relationship between the applicant pool, those offered admission, and those who matriculate. They failed to understand that a school's median LSAT score might be only a point lower than its 75th percentile, but that its 25th percentile could conceivably be 10 points lower, expressing the breadth of diversity in the admissions process. 

Instead of trying to understand this problem, USNews arbitrarily averaged the 25th and 75th percentile to "create" a median LSAT score for the school that had nothing to do with the actual median.

From that day on, USNews ran every admissions office in the country.

Schools with broad diversity ranges dropped in the rankings, and found that their alumni giving often dropped proportionally.  Despite the technical nomenclature of "nonprofit," law schools were unwilling to ignore the fiscal impact of the games USNews played.  And, arguably, they are unable to ignore this impact.  Money buys facilities, faculty, special programs, books for the library, and glossy brochures that get you to apply.  Money buys a web design team that keeps you reading instead of taking a quick peek and moving on to another school.  Like it or not, these are realities that institutions must face.

And so now, law schools are not looking at the quality of the applicants or at the diversity they offer; instead, they are looking first at securing their USNews ranking. And thus have we arrived at the latest model of law school admissions.  I call it the "World Series" model.

World Series Model

In this model, 80,000 people, previously known as "applicants," buy tickets to a game. They enter the stadium, anxiously hoping that they will be one of the lucky few who catch a foul ball (or even a home run slugged over the fence); perhaps they'll even get it signed by one of the players later.  But these applicants are not players in the game; they are mere spectators at the game being played on the infield.  That game is the World Series.  Teams (previously known as "law schools") vie for the chance to be ranked number one, or at least higher than the next team on the list.  They do this not out of love of the game, nor even out of a sense of fierce competition, but primarily because of the enormous financial bonuses that go along with winning.

You, the applicant, are not entirely irrelevant to the game.  After all, there wouldn't be big bonuses if you weren't buying tickets and coming to watch the game. And the teams know perfectly well that a number of you are coming on the chance that you'll catch a ball.  But you are no longer the game.

This is the basic model that many schools, especially top schools, are using in their admissions process. 

  • They no longer care whether you will be a good law student, or a good lawyer.
  • They no longer care whether you'll be interesting, or even interested. 
  • Their primary concern is whether you will help their team rankings -- as determined by USNews.

What about all that language in the catalogs and on their web pages about reviewing each applicant carefully?  Well, that's still true.  With 10 or more applicants for every seat, most law schools have a greater number of people who will help their team rankings then they can admit.  They will choose from among those people based on non-numerical factors, such as your activities and accomplishments.  But most of the time, if your GPA and LSAT do not help their team ranking in some way, those "soft factors" become irrelevant.

There are still the games played that I mentioned in "Maximizing the Rewards."  Law schools need to reward alumni donors, legislators, and other influential people.  At least some people will be admitted even though their GPA and LSAT score do not help the team ranking.  Remember, ultimately, the purpose of a high team ranking is to get money, and if admitting these people will directly contribute to that goal, we can be a teeny bit accommodating on the numerical factors.  But for the average applicant, the only thing you can really offer the school is either an LSAT score or a GPA above median.

When will this end?  Probably when USNews goes out of business.  There is certainly no hope in sight that applicants will become so sophisticated that they ignore USNews rankings.  And as long as you are silly enough to look at a single number and think it describes an institution, the institution must pay a lot of attention to that silly number.

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