So, this post might get a little ranty because this topic really annoys a lot of people. I’m going to talk about the worst law schools in the US that people and reports suggest you shouldn’t apply to. If you choose to ignore this advice and apply to such schools, you’re entering risky territory. Today, we’re exploring predatory law schools. You might not know what a predatory law school is, but we’ll cover all the aspects that define such schools, and I’ll name a few you should avoid. If you are new to this blog, definitely consider allowing notifications to be the first to access my latest posts. It’s so exciting whenever someone allows notifications.
What Makes a Predatory Law School?
So, before we list some of the worst law schools in the US, let’s examine the typical characteristics of a predatory law school:
It is Typically For-Profit
It’s tricky to pinpoint an exact definition of a predatory law school in the US, but you’ll likely recognize one after reading this post. The aim is not to be deceived by their strategies. Predatory law schools often exhibit several characteristics. Firstly, they are typically for-profit schools. According to The Atlantic, a for-profit law school is humorously yet distressingly described as a “capitalistic dream of privatized profits and socialized losses.” There’s plenty of online material highlighting the risks associated with for-profit law schools.
But what makes them hazardous? In 2006, the Federal Direct PLUS loan program was expanded to allow graduate students in accredited programs to borrow the entire cost of attendance. This includes not just tuition but also living expenses, books, transportation, and more. However, this expansion didn’t limit how much these schools could charge for tuition or the amount students could borrow. This is where the problem lies: predatory schools charge hefty fees, and students can borrow whatever they need.
This leads to graduates struggling to repay their debts. In 2013, over 90% of 1,191 graduates from for-profit law schools had an average debt of $204,000. This amount exceeds what many borrow for top law schools, even at full price. That’s quite astounding. For-profit law schools are often seen as a sign of potential predatory behavior, mainly because their focus is more on making profits.
Low Employment Rates
Moving on to the next factor, and I’m not going to mince words here: the employment outcomes are dismal. I’ll quote directly: ‘The odds of a graduate from a for-profit school getting a job that justifies the incurred debts are about 100 to 1.’ Personally, I’m not a fan of those odds. They don’t seem favorable at all. I wouldn’t bet on that, no matter the circumstances.
Also, predatory, worst law schools in the US typically have low employment rates at graduation. If you look again ten months later, their employment numbers tend to worsen. It’s a consistent decline from graduation onwards.
Predatory Law Schools Have Low Bar Passage Rates
So, let’s discuss the bar passage rates. If a law school has low bar passage rates, it’s a warning sign that it might be predatory and one of the worst law schools in the US. When we think about it, one of the key reasons for attending law school is to gain the knowledge necessary to pass the bar exam. But these schools often don’t fare well in this area.
For instance, in the class admitted to Florida Coastal in 2013, over half of the students were unlikely to ever pass the bar. These institutions often provide inadequate legal education and admit students with low LSAT scores, which contributes to poor bar passage rates. Of course, this hinges on whether you believe there’s a link between LSAT scores and bar passage rates. Opinions vary on that.
Conditional Scholarship Scam
This is common among the worst law schools in the US. A conditional scholarship is one where you need to keep a certain GPA to continue receiving the scholarship. At first glance, this might not seem too problematic. These scholarships might tempt students unaware of these predatory practices, making them think they can maintain the required GPA. But consider this: would you be comfortable with only a 31% chance of keeping your scholarship and a 69% chance of losing it? That sounds stressful.
There are reputable schools offering conditional scholarships, but it would be best to try to negotiate it to be unconditional rather than asking for more money. From a mental health perspective, I don’t like conditional scholarships. I’m not saying that every school offering them is predatory, but it’s a common tactic among the worst law schools in the US. They might offer a full scholarship, which the student then loses, leaving them to pay the full tuition for the remaining two years. If you are okay with a conditional scholarship, that’s fine.
High Attrition Rates
This means that a lot of students either drop out or move to a different school. When students enroll in these worst law schools in the US, they often come to a realization that something is off. So, they either quit or transfer. A high dropout rate is a clear sign that something’s not right. For example, Whittier Law School in California, which is now closed, had an attrition rate of 20.8% among its first-year students. That is 1 out of every 5 students leaving, which is definitely not a good sign and indicates that the school might be lacking in some areas.
Worst Law Schools in the US
I have talked about the key indicators of predatory law schools which include being for-profit, having low bar passage rates, poor employment outcomes, high attrition rates, and offering conditional scholarships. Now, let’s identify some worst law schools in the US that fit these criteria and should be avoided.
- Argosy University
- Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School
- Florida Coastal School of Law (notably mentioned frequently as a major offender)
- Charleston School of Law
- Arizona Summit School of Law
- Western Michigan University Cooley Law School (also frequently listed)
- Appalachian School of Law.
Remember, there are more schools out there, so do your research thoroughly to avoid unnecessary hardship. If these are your only options, I usually don’t suggest this, but consider retaking the LSAT. You don’t want to be a graduate from schools that often face significant debt without the job prospects to manage it.
So, the Ten Law Schools released a report featuring the latest ABA 509 Required Disclosures. Using this report, David Frakt (The Faculty Lounge) identified some law schools that fall short and which improved.
1. Western Michigan University Thomas Cooley
Even Wikipedia describes Cooley as the worst but with a new development. Last autumn, the ABA found Cooley non-compliant with ABA Standard 501 on Admissions. In response, Cooley sued the ABA. By March 2018, the ABA changed its stance and declared Cooley compliant with Standard 501(b), citing the school’s “concrete steps” towards better admissions policies. Despite an increase in applicants (possibly due to the “Michael Cohen bump”), Cooley continued its usual practice of prioritizing profit.
2. Southern University
Southern University scored 146/144/142 and had GPA ranges of 3.13/2.83/2.55. The positive aspect is that Southern University increased its LSAT 25th percentile score by one point. However, on the downside, the 25th percentile GPA dropped by 0.03. Despite numerous years of significantly low admission standards and declining bar exam performance, Southern has surprisingly avoided sanctions from the American Bar Association (ABA). This situation draws a parallel with Cooley Law School, suggesting a lenient compliance standard.
3. Appalachian School of Law
Appalachian School of Law is currently not meeting Standard 501. The school increased its 25th and 50th percentile LSAT scores by 2 and 1 points, respectively, but the 75th percentile score decreased by 2 points. Enrollment dropped to 50 first-year students from 73 the previous year, indicating potential challenges for the institution.
4. Texas Southern University
The school was found non-compliant with several ABA Standards, including 501(b), in June 2017 and was required to take corrective measures. Since then, Texas Southern has improved its LSAT and GPA scores and reduced its class size from 256 to 217. Unlike Cooley Law School, Texas Southern has made tangible efforts to improve, although further progress is needed before the ABA should consider lifting its remedial actions.
5. North Carolina Central University
North Carolina Central University which previously ranked 7th improved significantly after being found non-compliant with Standard 501(b). The school’s scores rose from 149/145/142 to 150/146/144, and GPAs increased from 3.43/3.22/2.95 to 3.50/3.26/3.07 respectively. These changes reflect genuine, substantial improvements. Also, NC Central committed to not admitting any students with an LSAT score below 142, which resulted in reduced class size from 166 to 103. NC Central’s progress in enhancing its admission standards and practices is commendable.
6. Concordia University
Previously ranked 10th, Concordia’s current statistics are 151/148/144 LSAT scores and 3.52/3.05/2.80 GPAs with 59 students. The school’s median LSAT score rose by one point, and the lowest GPA increased from 2.59, indicating positive progress. However, to achieve greater respectability, Concordia should consider not admitting students with LSAT scores below 145.
7. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson ranked 5th last year but is now on probation by the ABA, and has decreased its enrollment to 59 students. The current profile shows 149/147/145 LSAT scores and 3.09/2.80/2.53 GPAs, a notable improvement from last year’s 147/144/142 and 3.11/2.84/2.59. Nonetheless, these figures are still low considering California’s stringent bar passage requirements.
Despite poor bar passage results, FAMU has avoided ABA sanctions. Its current profile is 149/146/145 LSAT scores and 3.36/3.09/2.79 GPAs. It ranked 8th last year. The LSAT score at the 25th percentile increased by one point, but other metrics remained the same. FAMU reduced its class size from 222 to 190 and admitted 49% of applicants, down from 53% last year, showing some improvement in admissions standards. These changes may suffice to prevent ABA action, particularly as FAMU’s statistics are better than NCCU’s, which is facing compliance issues.
9. Widener Commonwealth
Joining the list this year, Widener Commonwealth reduced its class size from 128 to 117. Despite this reduction, the school saw a worrying decline in its 75th percentile LSAT score, while maintaining its 50th and 25th percentile scores. The scores were 150/147/145 in 2017 and 148/147/145 in 2018.
10. University of the District of Columbia (UDC)
UDC maintained a similar class profile as the previous year but had to reduce its class size from 93 to 64 students to uphold its standards. The scores were 151/148/145 LSAT and 3.22/2.95/2.60 GPAs in 2017, and 150/147/145 LSAT and 3.17/2.92/2.72 GPAs in 2018. The situation suggests an oversupply of law schools in DC, and UDC is currently facing challenges.
Dishonorable Mention, according to Frakt:
Several law schools, including Ave Maria, Charleston, Mississippi College, North Dakota, and Roger Williams, have set their 25% LSAT scores at 145. They seem to believe this score is sufficient to avoid issues with the ABA, and this is likely a correct assumption. So, it seems that Frakt focused this analysis on evaluating the compliance of various law schools with American Bar Association (ABA) standards, specifically in terms of admissions policies, LSAT and GPA scores, class sizes, and overall academic performance. He also highlighted areas of improvement or concern in their efforts to maintain or achieve compliance.
More to Note on Last Year’s Bottom 10
At some point, Atlanta’s John Marshall was not complying with Standard 501. They’ve improved their incoming class’s scores. In 2017, the number of first-year students dropped from 194 to 108, and the acceptance rate decreased from 52.5% to 46%. Despite these changes, the ABA still found the school in violation of standards 501(a) and (b) and put it on probation. The school also reduced its academic attrition rate from 22% to 12%. It’s unclear why Atlanta’s John Marshall was placed on probation, and it seems quite unfair.
Regarding unfairness, over 30 schools (excluding those in Puerto Rico) had lower admission standards than the Florida Coastal School of Law in 2018. Florida Coastal decreased its class size to 60 students and raised its standards to 153/150/147 3.36/3.14/2.83, compared to the previous year’s 106 students at 151/148/145 3.10/2.83/2.59. This significant improvement places Florida Coastal above Barry, FAMU, and St. Thomas in Florida. Yet, the ABA continues to find Florida Coastal in non-compliance with Standard 501(b).
Conclusion – Worst Law Schools in the US
This post doesn’t imply that the law schools listed are no-go areas in the U.S., nor does it suggest that they provide inferior legal education. The main concern here is whether some law schools might be taking advantage of students either through the characteristics earlier mentioned or by accepting those who have a high likelihood of struggling. Generally, however, many law schools with less stringent admission criteria still offer top-notch legal education.
As a prospective student, make sure to evaluate other aspects such as bar passage rates, job placement rates, and average student debt to assess the real value of a law school. It’s also wise to ask for specific data from the admissions office of the law schools you’re considering, particularly about the performance of students with LSAT scores and GPAs similar to yours.
Read also: 7 Worst Online Colleges