Official, but Incomplete

Law Schools publish vast amounts of data to help you decide where you'd like to attend and where you're likely to be admitted. Most of you never read this information, or even find it. Instead, you look at the USNews and read chat boards. However, were you to decide to look at actual data published by actual law schools, you'd be just amazed at what you can find!

The first and best source of data (as you may have surmised by the number of times I cite it) is the 2011 ABA-LSAC Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools. I buy one or two current copies each year, and keep old ones for comparison. But Law Services is kind enough to give you this data for free!

All you have to do is

  1. Go to lsac.org but do not log in
  2. Look for "LSAC Resources" in orange, in the right column near the top.
  3. Immediately below that are groups of links. Find "Publications.".
  4. Click on the link to "Official Guide."
  5. Look for a small link that says "View All Schools."
  6. Choose your school and you'll see two links -- dark blue bars with white letters. One says "ABA Law School Data" and the other says "Law School Description."

Click on either one and you've struck gold; click on both and you'll have as complete a look at the schools as is possible.

For 2011, you can click on this link and bookmark it; otherwise you may never find it again!

There are two pages of ABA data, a true gem. Since this is data the law school reports to the American Bar Association, it is as reliable and accurate as any data you can find. I use these two pages as my primary source for a half dozen different pieces of information:

1. A school's median GPA and LSAT USNews purports to rank using the median, but doesn't publish that data. More importantly, a good general definition of "presumptive admit" is "both GPA and LSAT above median."

2. A school's attrition rate, both academic and non-academic. I pay particular attention to the academic attrition (a/k/a/ flunk-out rate). What's the point of going to a school if you're going to be out of luck and $50k in debt next year?

3 & 4. The number of transfers in and out, tuition, and other costs. I could pretend these pieces of information are related to each other, but the simple truth is they're grouped together on a page, and it seemed silly to artificially divide them.

5. Bar Passage Info. USNews gives similar info, so why do I use the ABA data as well?

  • The Official Guide sometimes gives data for two jurisdictions (states); USNews never does that.
  • The Official Guide shows the number of people taking that state's bar exam, os you can judge how many people remained in-state. Since one of the commonest myths is that you work where you went to school, you can use this data to judge for yourself.

6. Minority Enrollment. The Official Guide gives incredibly specific information about minority enrollments. The problem is that it takes a careful and fairly sophisticated analysis to interpret this data meaningfully.

And all of that's just from the two ABA pages; next we get to look at the "Law School Description," or the LSAC pages.

The LSAC pages don't have nearly as much cool stuff as the ABA pages do. My cynical reasoning is that the problem is that this information is

a) voluntarily provided, and
b) not audited.

Schools use these two pages primarily to market themselves, their campuses, and their special programs. There is no uniformity, no neat lines and tabulations to help you find what you're looking for; all you can do is read.

However, there is one very important piece of information in the LSAC portion of the book -- the Applicant Profile. This normally comes in one of three versions:

Numerical: the school tells you how many people applied and how many were admitted.in various gpa and LSAT combinations. Although most schools use 5 LSAT point and .25 GPA increments, other schools design their own scale, intending to be more meaningful and usually succeeding.

Bar Graph: This grid, instead of showing numbers, shows shades of gray labeled with vague words like "Probable," "Very Likely," "Possible," "Some Chance," "Low Probability," "Unlikely." None of these words is defined anywhere. If I thought I could get away with it, I could write a really funny Dave Barry routine about these words, but I know how far I can go in writing, and that's too far.

Nonexistent: a small handful of schools feel that any representation of likelihood is misleading.  I can't help it; I know I'm supposed to bite my tongue, but I cannot imagine any situation, in any world, where NO information is more helpful than SOME information. I mean, really: would you rather be in a totally black room rather then a room with one dim lightbulb, just because the lightbulb casts unrealistic shadows? The law schools that choose this option give reasons, none of which I believe for a minute. (Okay, go get the noose, guys. But what do you expect from a woman who devotes hundreds of hours a year and 30 web pages to data analysis?)

The rest of the information on the two LSAC pages is so variable that, while worth looking at, it lacks any uniformity that I can address. Just as an example: Georgetown, Fordham, and Boston College do not mention their Roman Catholic affiliation, while Notre Dame, St. Louis, and St. Mary's do. Nonetheless, I encourage you to read it. You may find programs and internships that spark an exciting new interest.

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