Dean Roger Dennis discussed the new landscape that law schools face amid declining enrollments, as a guest on WHYY’s Radio Times on Nov. 20.
With law school applications declining by nearly 50 percent in the last decade, the number of enrolled students is better aligned with availability of jobs than it was in the past, said Dennis, who joined Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, and Jordan Weissmann, Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent on the program.
The discussion followed the release of a report by Law School Transparency, which claimed that certain law schools recruit students with low LSAT scores and therefore have little chance of passing the bar exam or finding work in the profession simply to maintain the flow of tuition dollars.
“It’s not the Drexels of the world. It’s not Penn. It’s not Temple,” McEntee said. “It’s schools around the country that are lower-tiered. They have the greatest enrollment crunch and the greatest budget crunch.”
While LSAT scores do not predict bar passage as well as law-school grades, Dennis agreed that some law schools “because of their competitive situation are taking some chances that I think are untoward” by recruiting students whose grades and test scores combined suggest they will struggle in law school and at the bar exam.
A member of the Council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Dennis said the ABA is mulling transparency regulations that would require schools to provide information in aggregate about students who do not pass the bar exam, which would help prospective students make better informed choices.
Dennis noted that the ABA has struggled to develop regulations that discourage recruitment of at-risk students.
“Where do you draw the line between an appropriate (bar exam) pass rate and issues around diversity in the profession,” Dennis asked, adding that a diverse bar is extremely important to the legal profession and to society as a whole.
That view was echoed by a caller from the audience, a diversity officer at a global law firm who stressed the need to maintain a diverse workforce in the legal profession as well as the need for law schools to prepare students for the realities of legal practice.
To answer that need, Dennis replied, the Kline School of Law maintains a professional practice requirement which students can fulfill through either an intensive clinic or co-op placement, which he called “an externship on steroids.”