The Leaky Pipeline: LSAT and Law School Applications (with Podcast)

Law School PipelineToday, we’re excited to announce the third episode of Law School Transparency’s podcast mini-series about women in the law. This week’s theme is the leaky pipeline for women in the legal profession, which starts even before students enter law school.

For the next few weeks, we’ll be running posts related to the LST topic of the week, along with a podcast episode and roundtable discussion on the same topic. You can learn more at Hope you enjoy it!

Much of the recent news concerning gender inequality in the legal profession focuses on the differences between salaries (men make more), access to partnership (there are more male partners), and retention rates at various levels of practice (women leave law faster, i.e. the “leaky pipeline” problem). With respect to the leaky pipeline problem, thanks to the work of Deborah J. Merritt, professor at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, and Kyle McEntee, Executive Director of Law School Transparency, we have learned that issues may arise earlier in the pipeline, namely when aspiring law students take the LSAT test.

By analyzing data collected by the American Bar Association and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), Professor Merritt and Mr. McEntee identified the following three leaks that may impact women’s presence and success in law:

Leak One: Women are less likely than men to apply to law school

Let’s talk numbers. According to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education, women obtain 57.1% of all college degrees. Great! It appears women shattered the glass ceiling to pursuing higher education. Progress! However, according to the most recent data available from LSAC, women account for 50.8% of law school applicants. While looking at the second number in a vacuum makes it look like women may have shattered the glass ceiling to pursuing a legal education (i.e., by applying to law school 0.8% more than men), the reverse is true.

Astonishingly, if the same rate of women applied to law school as men, then applications would go up 16% overall. That staggering figure is because about 3.4% of men who graduate college apply to law school, but only 2.6% of women who graduate college do. This isn’t because women aren’t as interested as men are in pursuing post-college education; women obtain 59.9% of all master’s degrees and 51.8% of doctoral degrees.

So why the difference? The answer is not yet known, but it is something law schools should look into (particularly considering the number of applicants is still down and there may be a 16% pool of women that can be reached).

Leak Two: Women who apply to law school are less likely than men to be admitted

For every year since 2000 (i.e., the oldest year for which reliable data is available), a gap has existed between the number of women versus men admitted into law school. For the class that began in Fall 2015, law schools admitted 79.5% of their male applicants, but nearly 4% less of their female applicants (i.e., 75.8%).  Dishearteningly, this gap exceeded three percentage points in all but two years.

Again, why the difference? Perhaps it is due to law schools’ evaluation of LSAT scores as higher than college GPAs. While women tend to have higher GPAs, men generally outscore women on the LSAT by two points. If the LSAT score is weighed higher than GPAs, men are more likely to get accepted into law school.

Questions abound. What is it about pursuing a college education that helps women outperform men with respect to their GPAs but not the LSAT? What relationship, if any, is there between sex, GPA, the type of degree obtained, and the method in which the grades for those degrees are assessed?

Equally as interesting, why is there a consistent two-point difference between men and women taking the LSAT? Is there some unknown issue we have yet to identify, let alone address? Does it arise from or relate to what causes the gap we see in math SAT scores, where men score higher?

Regardless, admissions and access to scholarships can be won or lost over two LSAT points, so this two-point gap is no small number. This small number, in fact, arguably rears its head again in Leak Three.

Leak Three: Women who are admitted into law school attend schools with worse job placement rates and lower US News ranks than men

Professor Merritt and Mr. McEntee made three shocking findings when looking at the relationship between the composition of a school’s study body and the school’s job placement rate:

  1. In 2015, the eleven schools with the best placement rates placed at least 85% of their graduates in full-time, long-term (FTLT) jobs requiring bar passage. Although women made up 49.4% of the student body at all ABA-accredited schools, these eleven schools averaged just 46.6% female enrollment.
  2. For those schools who placed 70-84% of their graduates in FTLT jobs requiring bar passage, the numbers are worse. These schools averaged a female enrollment of just 45.7%.
  3. In comparison, at schools that placed less than 40% of their graduates in FTLT jobs requiring bar passage, the percentage of female enrollment averaged 55.9%.

These numbers are statistically significant, and signal a potential leak that needs to be addressed. Although women are entering law schools at the same rate, they are not entering schools with the same job placement success rate. This is a serious issue.

A similar sight is seen with respect to the relationship between the composition of a school’s study body and US News rankings — women accounted for 46% of the students at the top 50 schools but accounted for 53% of the students at the bottom, unranked quarter of schools.

Unfortunately, this leak may be new and growing. In 2001, when women’s law school enrollment first approached 50%, there was no significant relationship between the composition of a school’s student body and its ranking. In 2006, there was a trace of the leak. In 2011, the leak became evident. By 2015, the leak became stark.

Considering the number of women who are interested in law school, law schools need to critically examine if they are putting too much emphasis on LSAT scores or U.S. News rankings at the expense of gender equity. Perhaps future law students may place pressure on schools in light of this study. Although this study invites several new questions begging for answers, it at least appears clear that more work needs to be done in the legal profession (although perhaps earlier than we once thought).

Law School Transparency’s Women in Law Podcast and Roundtable

Here’s the third episode of Law School Transparency’s podcast mini-series about women in the law.

And the roundtable discussion:

Learn more about the project at

Check out the other posts in this series:


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About Sara O'Connor

Sara O'Connor is a law school tutor and bar exam tutor for the Law School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox.

While in law school at Duquesne University School of Law, Sara received the Outstanding Appellate Brief Award in her Legal Research & Writing course and served as a tutor for their nationally-ranked Legal Research & Writing program. She also served as a Law Review Associate Notes and Comments Editor, received a Cali Award in Administrative Law, competed on Mock Trial teams (one of which became Quarter Finalists),coached a high school team that went on to become District Champions and Semi-Regional Champions, and graduated third in her class.

After graduating, Sara practiced law for several years at K&L Gates, LLP in the areas of commercial disputes, insurance coverage, toxic torts, and product liability. However, she could not resist the temptation to teach and found herself serving as a Bar Prep Tutor, Trial Advocacy Adjunct Professor, and an undergraduate and law school mentor and adviser. Sara has since left Biglaw to devote herself to her two passions -- working with students who know their worth and potential but may need assistance reaching it and showcasing her artwork throughout the North East.

Sara regularly blogs about law school, the Bar exam, and the practice of law.


  1. You seem to have asserted that an emphasis on LSAT score hurts gender equality because the emphasis disfavors female applicants. Further, you seem to have implied that an emphasis on LSAT really serves no important purpose other than trivial ones, such as gaming the US News rankings.

    However, you did not make a strong argument for your position. If the LSAT score serves a legitimate purpose–for example, to measure the applicants’ likelihood to succeed in law school–then it would be reasonable to emphasize LSAT in the admission process. Likewise, if the emphasis on LSAT is justifiable, then the gender difference in admission statistics would not automatically imply gender inequality EVEN IF one gender is admitted less frequently than the other.

    What is your evidence that an emphasis on LSAT is unjustifiable?

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