The Dumb Kids Didn’t Get the Message? Whoa, there.

By Mary Adkins, Manhattan LSAT Teacher. Manhattan LSAT is a leading LSAT-exclusive test preparation provider. If you don’t know much about the LSAT, you can read the Manhattan LSAT intro guide or attend one of the free workshops (available in NYC and Live Online).

You may have heard the news. At the end of a decade of soaring law school application numbers, they’ve finally started plummeting. Over the past two years, there has been a notable dip in the number of people taking the LSAT and, accordingly, the number applying to law school. Interestingly, it turns out that the greatest decrease has been among test-takers scoring highest on the test. The smallest change has been among students scoring at the low end. In other words, the potential 170s are mostly the ones deciding to forego law school. The potential 150s (and under) are still showing up.

I have been troubled over the past couple of weeks by the chatter about why this may be the case. The popular consensus that has emerged: the smart kids are “getting the memo” that law jobs are few and far between, so they’re moving on to do other things. Then there the dumb kids, who just don’t get it. They’re still applying.

This speculation is pretty myopic, and I’m sort of awed by how readily the authors who suggest it—not only at The Atlantic and Above the Law—seem to assume that most people decide to go law school based on identical professional goals (with some minor lip service to the “less affluent” crowd, as if it’s at the fringe): super high-paying, big city, highly competitive.

No doubt that jobs at firms in major cities are hard to come by, have become harder to come by, and are easier (as in, perhaps possible) to come by if you’ve graduated from a top school, for which you need a high LSAT score. Sure. But there are many, many people who don’t plan or want to live in Chicago, New York, or Boston. For these folks, local and/or state law schools ranked below the top 50, or even100, are more than sufficient to obtain JDs and set up shop.

“Small town” lawyers and the lower-tier schools that train them are not the outliers of the legal profession, the minority. They are the majority.

I can think of five friends offhand who went to law schools proximate to where we grew up in South Carolina (and all to schools outside the top 100, by the way). What are these people doing now? They are practicing law near or in our hometown.

Maybe the reason the Potential 170s aren’t taking the LSAT isn’t because they’re picking up on something that the 150s-and-under are missing. Maybe they just want something different. The Potential 170s want Ropes & Gray or Cravath or to run Legal Aid, and in this economic climate, they make the reasonable assessment that for them, law school isn’t a great bet. Meanwhile, a healthy number of the150s have more flexibility in terms of what schools they’re willing to go to and/or what scores they need to get there.

The reason the decreasing number of applications seems to be skewed by LSAT score has, I imagine, more to do with people’s varying values than it does the ignorance of low scorers. Maybe they’re not missing the message; it’s just a message that doesn’t apply to them.

This blog post originally appeared on the Manhattan LSAT Blog.