Across the country, law schools are making big plans for 2012, too.
There are three emerging trends in legal academia that have slowly gained traction over the past few years and will likely dominate much of the discussion surrounding law schools in the coming year. So as we ring in the new year, what are some factors law schools should keep in mind when making their resolutions—and what will they mean for law students?
1. Accelerated law programs: Law schools are responding to student concerns about the time and cost (both in terms of tuition and the opportunity cost associated with foregoing a salary for three years) required to complete a law degree. As a result, a number of schools have developed accelerated programs that allow students to complete law school in two rather than three years.
Northwestern Law School is currently the only top 14 law school to have a two-year program, but other top schools have considered such programs. (Southwestern Law School and the University of Dayton School of Law offer similar programs, too.) I expect a number of leading law schools to follow Northwestern's lead in the coming months and years.
As accelerated law programs multiply, you may consider taking advantage of one of these options—but they are not for everyone. While the cost savings can be enticing, you have to be sure that you are prepared for the academic challenges.
Northwestern, for example, requires that applicants to its accelerated J.D. program have at least two years of "substantive" work experience to ensure students will be able to handle the rigor of the fast-track program. Another potential disadvantage to seriously consider is missing valuable summer internship opportunities, which often lead to full-time jobs.
[Law jobs exist where students don't look, one dean says.]
Accelerated combined degree programs are also rapidly gaining popularity. For example, students can now complete J.D./M.B.A. programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Northwestern Law School, Yale Law School, and Duke Law School in three years instead of the traditional four years. Yale Law School's Accelerated Integrated J.D./M.B.A. is unique in that it keeps students' summers free for internships, avoiding a typical drawback of accelerated programs that require students to take classes during the summer.
2. Debate over the LSAT: In recent years, there has been increased debate regarding the fairness of the LSAT and its ability to accurately predict one's aptitude for practicing law. While even opponents of the LSAT acknowledge that there is a strong (though certainly not perfect) correlation between one's LSAT score and one's law school GPA, they believe that the test and the current law school grading paradigm do not most accurately evaluate the skills required for professional success in the legal arena.
The most outspoken challengers of the LSAT are University of California—Berkeley Law School professors Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck, who advocate replacing the LSAT with a new test that better measures an applicant's potential for success in the practice of law.
There are an increasing number of schools—though still a very small minority—that have received exemptions allowing them to admit students without LSAT scores, which is typically a requirement for law school accreditation. For example, Northwestern's J.D./M.B.A. program allows students to be admitted with a GMAT score in lieu of an LSAT score.
[Find out how to study for the GMAT.]
The concerns of Professors Shultz and Zedeck about the LSAT are legitimate and do need to be addressed. Nevertheless, until an alternative metric that can be applied to all students and equally (or hopefully better) predicts law school success is available, we are unlikely to see the LSAT disappear.
3. Fewer law school applicants: The number of people taking the LSAT was down 9.6 percent in 2010-2011 (155,050) from 2009-2010 (171,500), according to LSAC. Preliminary year-end numbers for 2011 show a similar trend in law school applications, which have decreased 9.9 percent, down to 78,900 from 87,500 in 2010.
For the last five years, law school admissions have been extraordinarily competitive due to the stagnant economy. A decline in the number of applicants is welcome news, as it means that the competition may be slightly less fierce this year. However, current law school application levels are still very high by traditional standards, so gaining admission to the top 14 schools will remain very challenging.
[Read what law school deans recommend to applicants.]
What trends do you foresee in the new year? Share your thoughts by commenting below, E-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contacting me via Twitter at @shawnpoconnor. Check back next Monday for tips on how to leverage your leadership experiences and extracurricular activities to appeal to admissions committees.