Free Minds & Free Markets


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The Mismatch Effect: A Danger for Students of All Races

A very interesting article from Prof. Robert Steinbuch (Arkansas / Little Rock).

Say that you apply to many schools, including some where other students have much better predictors (chiefly test scores and grades from earlier institutions) than you. And you get in! Maybe it was affirmative action (whether based on race, socioeconomic status, or something else), maybe it was a preference because your relatives had gone to the same school, maybe it was something in your admission essay, maybe it was just luck. Either way, you're thrilled.

Might you have reason to be less thrilled, and actually not want to go to this highly ranked school? (Conversely, might the school reconsider its policy that led you to be let in?) If the predictors are actually reasonable predictors (and apparently grades and test scores tend to be reasonable predictors), then you can expect you'll end up lower in the class at the new school than you might be at some other school, precisely because the other students are better than you. The advantage of having a more prestigious degree might be counteracted by the disadvantage of having a less prestigious class rank. But might you end up getting a worse education, being less likely to graduate, and being less likely to pass any professional licensing exams (such as the bar) that you might be expecting to take?

That's the debate about the "mismatch effect," which I've followed over the years (though from a distance); it has mostly focused on whether race-based affirmative action causes problems (such as lower black bar passage rates) as a result of this effect, but it can also be relevant to many students of all races. I was first exposed to it because of the work of my UCLA School of Law colleague Rick Sander, and Robert Steinbuch at Arkansas / Little Rock has been working in it as well; Rob has been kind enough to pass along these thoughts on the subject:

As much as we have discussed the "mismatch effect" -- what takes place when students with academic credentials noticeably lower than their peers learn less as a consequence of that intellectual estrangement -- I believe that we still haven't fully appreciated its negative consequences. We know that mismatched law-school graduates, on average, fare far worse on the bar exam than their non-mismatched peers. And we've generally thought of the harmful mismatch effect as impacting racial minorities, because they're often admitted with dramatically lower standardized-test scores than their peers. But the negative effects of mismatch on non-minorities have been overlooked: this second set of harms often remains hidden because these students are only a small percentage of a relatively large demographic group. Nonetheless, we should consider them as well when we analyze the scope of the mismatch problem.

[I.] Measuring "Low" LSAT Scores

No measurement of intelligence and skill is perfect, but standardized exams increasingly do a good job. So, in 2018, it should be unsurprising that law-school graduates with low Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores generally perform far more poorly on bar exams than those with high scores. What constitutes a "low" score, though, requires some discussion.

LSAT scores range from 120 to 180. The consumer-advocacy group Law School Transparency says that law-school applicants with LSAT scores below 150 are engaging in a perilous endeavor: a score of 147 to 149 presents a high risk for bar failure; a score of 145 to 146, a very high risk; and a score under 144, an extreme risk. Therefore, students with an LSAT score of, say, 149 will on average perform less well on the bar exam than students with, say, 165 -- all else being equal.

Beyond this easy to apply static view is a more dynamic model that posits that students' relative LSAT scores as compared with those of their law-school classmates is a reliable predictor of bar passage -- perhaps even more reliable than absolute LSAT scores. This mismatch theory posits that students with, say, a 155 will perform differently depending on where in the class they fall (i.e., how selective a law school they attend). In particular, the further students are below the bulk of the class, the more they suffer from "fish out of water" syndrome -- i.e., the more they're "mismatched." And that estrangement itself negatively affects bar performance.

[II.] Mismatch at UALR

Analysis of a large dataset containing information on graduates from the law school at which I teach, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Bowen School of Law, demonstrates that LSAT scores of students enrolled at the school (1) solidly predicted bar passage, and (2) varied significantly in relation to ethnicity.

Although color-blind admissions should produce roughly 25 percent of both Whites and African Americans in each LSAT-score quartile, over two-thirds of graduating African Americans were admitted with LSAT scores in the bottom quartile, as contrasted with only 16 percent for White students. (For more details, see the recent article I coauthored: Steinbuch and Love, Color-Blind-Spot: The Intersection of Freedom of Information Law and Affirmative Action in Law School Admissions, 20 Tex. Rev. L. & Pol. 1 (2016)). Although almost exactly a quarter of White students were admitted in the top quartile of LSAT scores (as expected), remarkably, only one percent of enrolled African Americans fell into the top quartile of LSAT scores. Predictably, this led to dramatic differences in bar passage: 80 percent of Whites passed the bar (the first time), while only 60 percent of African Americans did.

Given that the African-American cohort in our dataset on average had much lower LSAT scores than the bulk of the student body, it's fair to conclude that this cohort overall was mismatched. This profile dominated because affirmative-action considerations are designed to consider factors beyond traditional credentials and explains why debates on how to deal with poor bar-passage rates often focus on race-based admissions. However, the ensuing discussion often misses that, while on average Whites will not be mismatched because they have such a large population -- putting many at or above the mean of the class, the number of Whites who are mismatched could easily equal or exceed that of any other racial group.

[III.] A Closer Look at Mismatch's Consequences

Since mismatch effects likely impact students of all races -- indeed, maybe more White students than those in any individual minority cohort -- we should think much more carefully about how to discuss the process of law school admissions and bar passage in the context of race. Mismatch certainly says something important about race-based admissions, but it has much more to tell us.

Indeed, for schools that are not at the top echelon, the absence of race-based admissions might not eliminate the mismatch effect, because at least some of those schools will likely still admit mismatched students, irrespective of race, to fill otherwise empty tuition-producing seats. (It is possible, though, that some White mismatched students are admitted in some instances as cover for low-scoring minorities. If true, then mismatched admissions would drop in a color-blind process. Further study is necessary to determine this.)

A closer look at the UALR data highlights the dramatic increase in negative outcomes for graduates who were mismatched on LSAT scores. Logistic regression produced an odds ratio for LSAT scores that explained that the odds of a UALR graduate failing the bar exam increased by nearly seven percent (p = 0.0023) for each single-point decrease in LSAT score.

We can further see in the chart below just how heavily African Americans are mismatched in the dataset when we break down the bottom quartile in four roughly equal sized sub-groups. As was the case when looking at all quartiles, even within the bottom quartile, the number of African Americans dramatically grows as the LSAT scores drop. Even though there are nine times as many Whites as Blacks in the UALR dataset, the very lowest end of the LSAT-score band has twice the absolute number of African Americans as it does Whites. That remarkable divergence is overwhelmingly attributable to race-based admissions decisions, which explains the White-Black bar-pass disparity even within the lowest quartile.

Segmented LSAT Scores for Bottom Quartile of UALR Data

LSAT 148

LSAT 147

LSAT 146-45

LSAT < 145

African American

n = 3

100% pass

n = 2

100% pass

n = 10

50% pass

n = 20

35% pass


n = 32

75% pass

n = 24

66.67% pass

n = 26

69.23% pass

n = 10

40% pass

However, even though Whites in the bottom quartile had a far higher pass rate than Blacks, there are almost 50 percent more Whites in this category who failed the bar exam than Blacks. Thus, although Whites viewed as one group across quartiles weren't mismatched -- given their right-sided distribution overall -- far more Whites than Blacks in the bottom quartile failed the bar exam. For these White graduates, the negative consequences that flowed from being mismatched is likely not ameliorated by the realization that their cohort is generally not mismatched or that they didn't receive race-based admission preferences.

[IV.] How Disclosure Might Shrink Mismatch's Negative Consequences

So, what's the solution to poor bar-passage rates that result from schools consciously admitting mismatched students of all races? Some suggest that newly conceived remedial programs can offset the considerable headwinds faced by LSAT-score-impaired students. Others recommend cabining the now-overwhelming influence of race in admissions, so that it returns to its once-envisioned role as a tie-breaker.

As advocates battle over these competing approaches, I offer a modest proposal: informing students of their individual likelihood of success, as predicted with some strength by LSAT scores. With little effort, law schools could disclose their individual bar-passage rates broken down by LSAT scores on an annual basis. This would permit far more meaningful decision-making by students: it would allow prospective students to have a much better sense of where they stand before they attend law school.

Of course, prospective students may seek this information today -- but, sadly, institutions have been less than transparent about this kind of admissions data. Indeed, I had to sue my school under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to get some of it. When circumstances or individuals conspire to prevent the market from providing material information to consumers, we have the best case for requiring disclosure. Such disclosure is the most benign form of regulation, because it simply affords consumers the opportunity to make better informed decisions.

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  • ssgcmw||

    Any studies out there on how much of a bump one gets for graduating from a higher-tier law school? i.e. is it better for employment (or bar exam pass rates) to graduate very low in your class from Notre Dame LS vs. top of your class at Hillbilly U. LS?

  • NToJ||

    I believe most of the studies are limited to bar passage rates because that is the data available. Law schools don't release accurate information about their graduates "employment" (however defined), and the graduates are under no obligation to keep or share that information in any event.

  • phattyboombatty||

    I'd like to know the answer to this as well. It's something that I've heard discussed on many occasions, but always in an anecdotal fashion.

    In my opinion, outside of maybe Harvard or Yale, if a law student finishes in the bottom half of a very good law school, it would have been much better for them to have gone to a regional state school and finished in the top 10%.

    The main reason for going to a prestigious law school is to get a better job (big law or good clerkship). But those jobs typically have a class ranking cutoff where they don't even consider students under a certain ranking. A super highly ranked school may be afforded a wider range of ranking than another lower-ranked school, but I've never seen big law firms looking at candidates from the bottom half of a class. So, the people at the bottom of their class in a top level, expensive law school end up having to compete for the same second-tier legal jobs as the graduates from the much cheaper regional state school.

  • perlchpr||

    In my opinion, outside of maybe Harvard or Yale, if a law student finishes in the bottom half of a very good law school, it would have been much better for them to have gone to a regional state school and finished in the top 10%.

    Is this a "law school" thing? Or does it happen in other fields?

    Certainly, as a professional computer jock, no one has ever asked me where in my class I graduated. To be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea what the answer is.

    Hell, most of the time they only care that I have a degree, at all, in anything, along with a portfolio of demonstrated work. And ultimately, I think the latter counts for more than the former.

  • phattyboombatty||

    Yeah, it's mostly just a law school thing. The big law firms (that pay the highest starting salaries) are very competitive and look primarily at a graduate's class rank to determine who they will interview.

  • ipsquire||

    It's also a traditional career path thing. Lots of happy fulfilled and well compensated law school grads DON'T go the BigLaw route.

    If you DON'T limit your view of success to the vision of a law career that starts in a big city as a 1st year associate, the data is way harder to get (career satisfaction surveys, salary data, etc. for 15+ years of grads) but more important than the easy data info. Bar pass rates are meaningless after a while, but having a Georgetown diploma (instead of Rutgers) still matters.

  • Sebastian Cremmington||

    I would only go to a private non-t14 on a full ride. And those full rides generally go to students admitted to a t14 that want a law review guarantee. So if you pay full tuition at a private non-t14 you are subsidizing a genius' law review articles and you don't get nearly the value for tuition that a worse student gets at a public law school because you have such a small chance at making law review and graduating at the top of your class.

    So if I lived in a state like California or Texas in which the flagship law school is a t14 I would have no problem going to even the 3rd tier state law school over a superior private law school.

  • EscherEnigma||

    IIRC (and in trying to remember back something close to ten years here), it's been found that top-tier schools the prestige bump is bigger then the mismatch penalty, but that beyond that the penalty was bigger.

    That said, I learned about this stuff probably close to ten years ago so it's possible/probable there have been new studies since then.

  • phattyboombatty||

    Well, if the "mismatch" results in not graduating or not passing the bar exam, then the prestige bump is worthless. But, if a person does happen to graduate and pass the bar, and assuming the mismatch penalty resulted in a lower class rank and GPA then they would have received at a lower-level school, the prestige bump may be worth it.

    However, I think the prestige bump is only worth it for minority graduates. The same affirmative action policies that may have resulted in a mismatched Black student being admitted to Harvard, will probably equally apply in the corporate world, and there will be plenty of big law firms salivating to hire a Black lawyer that graduated from Harvard regardless of their class rank. If you're a mismatched White male graduate from Harvard with a bottom of the class ranking, the prestige bump probably wasn't worth it.

  • Sebastian Cremmington||

    Mismatch is a bigger issue at state flagships which generally have highly ranked STEM programs and weaker liberal arts programs. So at UT-Austin and engineering degree is equivalent to an Ivy League engineering degree but only graduating Phi Beta Kappa in liberal arts gets you into a t14 law school. So a minority from an underperforming high school simply won't be prepared to hack it in the engineering program and will get shuffled into a liberal arts program most likely with some really bad freshmen grades! Had that minority gone to Texas Tech they will probably make it out of freshman year in the engineering program and end up with a degree more valuable than a UT liberal arts degree.

  • Lee Moore||

    What kind of a "bump" were you thinking of ?

    If your aim in going to law school is to bump into lots of really smart, industrious and ambitious lawyerkins, who are in with a good chance of making zillions; and perhaps to snag one as a potental spouse, the place to hunt is surely in the top schools. Even if your own grades suffer.

  • NToJ||

    "If your aim in going to law school is to bump into lots of really smart, industrious and ambitious lawyerkins, who are in with a good chance of making zillions; and perhaps to snag one as a potental spouse, the place to hunt is surely in the top schools."

    He's talking about law schools.

  • Greg J||

    "If your aim in going to law school is to bump into lots of really smart, industrious and ambitious lawyerkins, who are in with a good chance of making zillions; and perhaps to snag one as a potental spouse"

    Then you'd better be as smart as they are

    Because if you're the idiot constantly holding up class with your "stupid questions", they might take you on a date a screw you, but they're not going to marry you

  • Lee Moore||

    You are, it appears, woefully unfamiliar with this aspect of mate selection.

    You don't aim to date someone in your own class ! You date someone a year or two ahead who's already demonstrated the ability to do well, and is that bit closer to that first fat paycheck. Besides which, who's better to help you out on the points your'e stuck on (to the extent that you need help to get a modest passing grade) - a freshman or someone with two years studies under the belt ?

  • Greg J||

    I am very familiar with these aspects of mate selection

    An L3 who dates an L1 is going to be off to far more interesting people during her L2 year.

  • Vandalia||

    The "best" school for you is the school that will enable you to be your "best."

    That is different for different people. For some, a school close to home where they are involved with drama from family and friends could negatively effect their academic performance. For another person, being close to home with a grandfather who can take your car to get fixed/inspected, or a grandmother who sends a week's worth of meals home with you can dramatically enhance your grades.

    Despite what the US News College Rankings will try to tell you, if you have a group of 100 students, their would probably by about 75 "best" schools.

    This post is a specific example of a very general concept. Sure the better name - all other things being equal - is better, but things are never equal. I taught at a school that barely makes anyone's top 100, and we sent students to MIT for graduate school every year. The person with a 3.9 at Nebraska is still going to have better options than the 2.7 at Purdue.

  • phattyboombatty||

    I don't disagree with you, but it can be extremely difficult for a person to look into the future and know what school is going to end up being the best for them.

    For example, there's no guarantee that a person in the bottom half of a really good law school would not have also ended up at the bottom half of the lower ranked law school. Some people just aren't that good at law school (I'm skeptical that the skills needed to do good in law school and the bar exam necessarily equate to whether a person will be a good lawyer) and they will struggle no matter what school they go to.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I hope movement conservatives, and Federalist Society members such as these professors in particular, continue to speak openly about race, gender, immigration, sexual orientation, and similar issues, largely because I oppose most Federalist Society policy preferences and believe the more people understand the thinking that underlies them the less likelihood those policies will succeed in our society.

  • NToJ||

    The allegation is that affirmative action is harming black law school students. Evaluating, confronting, and confirming (or disproving) the argument is utterly important to people who care about the success of black law school students. I think you're being too flippant, and you're smart enough to confront the arguments directly.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I would welcome a thorough review of arguments and evidence. From the Federalist Society, I expect at most half of the arguments and evidence, and not the well-meaning half.

    I nonetheless welcome the Federalist Society's contributions to public debate. The more conservatives speak about women, and blacks, and gays, and immigrants (and others who bother some conservative, straight Christian males), the less persuasive stale intolerance is likely to be in our improving society.

  • Rossami||

    And yet rather than addressing any of the evidence or arguments (some of which are in the very article above), you engage in pointless ad hominem attacks.

  • perlchpr||

    And yet rather than addressing any of the evidence or arguments (some of which are in the very article above), you engage in pointless ad hominem attacks.

    Well... it is a parody account dedicated to trolling. What did you expect?

  • The original jack burton||

    AK is a living, breathing example of Poe's Law in action.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Well... it is a parody account dedicated to trolling.

    That reaction generally occurs within two groups:

    1) socially awkward code writer; dateless, code-writing Ayn Rand fans; and disaffected, third-shift IT help-deskers;


    2) movement conservatives, especially those who dabble in faux libertarianism, appease diffuse bigotry, and fight against persecution of white males.

  • perlchpr||

    It's cool, man. I don't expect you to break the 4th wall for me.

  • David Nieporent||

    I think you're being too flippant, and you're smart enough to confront the arguments directly.

    Objection. Assumes facts very much not in evidence.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The most relevant fact not in evidence would be that right-wingers such as most Conspirators and their faux libertarian fans "care about the success of black law school students" (except, perhaps, to the extent this point is associated with movement conservatives' intense interest in the promotion of the interests of poor, poor persecuted white people).

    Perhaps a guest blogging appearance here by Mike Cernovich will illuminate this point someday.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    "I...believe the more people understand the thinking that underlies [these policies] the less likelihood those policies will succeed in our society."

    You really think people are going to be up in arms about informing potential law students of their individual likelihood of success based on LSAT's? It sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    most whites agree with us, not you

    Which "us?"

    Republicans? Conservatives?

    Republicans who appease bigotry?

    Conservatives who embrace bigotry?

    White supremacists?

    Trump supporters?

    Right-wingers who believe women should never have been permitted to vote?

    Censorious proprietors of movement conservative blogs with an academic veneer?

    Conservatives who believe non-landowners should not be permitted to vote?

    Volokh Conspiracy fans?

    To which "us" do you refer?
  • ipsquire||

    Girlfriend, you know that's a modestly overlapping group with "people who don't think AA policies achieve their stated goals", right?

  • Paul McKaskle||

    LSAT is very useful in evaluating whether a group of applicants will succeed in law school. For a hundred admitted applicants with LSAT scores of, say, 170 almost all will be successful in law school and a large percentage will do very well. An extremely small number will flunk out. For a hundred admitted applicants with LSAT scores of, say, 145 many, maybe most, will flunk out, some will manage to graduate and a very small number will do well in law school. So LSAT is useful for law schools striving to admit as many students as possible who will successfully complete law school and become successful lawyers and that is why most law schools rely on LSAT scores so heavily. (With the ABA judging law schools on their success on bar exams, this is an additional pressure to try to admit students likely to graduate and bass the bar exam.)

    For the students who were admitted with 145 LSATs (or similar scores) who do manage to graduate, a disappointing number will actually pass the bar (at least in California). The net result is that most of the admittees with scores in this range will have spent one to three years of their lives, spent lots of money and ended up with nothing to show for their time and money investment.

  • ipsquire||

    Not nothing. The diploma has significant utility, even if the graduate never takes the bar.

  • phattyboombatty||

    I wonder if this mismatch theory works across all LSAT scores, or just the bottom half of LSAT scores. I can see how a person with a 145 LSAT score at Harvard would have a difficult time there, and may do better at a school more focused on developing students with that level of score. But, it seems that a student with a LSAT score of 165 (which is still low for Harvard) would probably have the same resulting chance of passing the bar exam after graduating from Harvard as they would if they graduated from a less prestigious school.

    In other words, is there a LSAT score cutoff where essentially all students above that score are "smart enough" that it doesn't really matter what law school environment they get put in.

  • NToJ||

    At LSAT 160 the bar passage rate is over 90%, so I assume at 165 it's significantly higher.

  • mkb-sdny||

    But the point about some lower ranked schools focusing more on getting their students to pass the bar is well-taken. More elite schools don't even require students to take the bar courses. That would be a disaster for somebody already treading water.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Disclosure: I went to a STEM school. Admissions was 100% based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores. We had a general studies degree, but all the rest were STEM degrees (that is, we had 0 liberal arts degrees).

    That out of the way...

    Most schools will always have a "mismatch" effect because they refuse to stick to measurable metrics. They fill their admissions process with all sorts of things, essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, legacy admissions, and yes, race.

    And here's the fun part: unless they're willing to give up that sweet sweet Alumni money, they're going to continue doing so.

    I don't have a fix, because most schools are unsettling to be like mine, and stuck to the numbers. And so long as they consider everything and the kitchen sink, there will be a "mismatch". And so long as they're considering all those irrelevant things, they're also inserting avenues for admissions officers biases to slip in (intentionally it not), which means they'll insert *other* considerations to try to balance it out, creating the got steaming mess you see.

    So I guess the lesson for anyone considering school these days is look for a STEM school.

  • NToJ||

    1) I doubt that legacy admissions approach the scale of race-based admissions in terms of mismatch. The overwhelming majority of law students are not attending the same law school as their parents (for the reason that most law students' parents didn't go to law school at all). I don't think law schools care if you played clarinet in HS band. I suspect law schools are more like STEM schools in their admission process, at least as you've described STEM school admission processes.

    2) For better or worse, society views social or governmental policies that harm minorities as worse than social or governmental policies that harm legacy students. So if mismatch is only harming students with lots of extracurricular activities or legacy bases for admission, it's not as much of a concern as a systematic process that harms black students on account of their race.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    For better or worse, society views social or governmental policies that harm minorities as worse than social or governmental policies that harm legacy students.

    Not all of society.

    Not the Federalist Society, for example.

  • theobromophile||

    "Most schools will always have a "mismatch" effect because they refuse to stick to measurable metrics. They fill their admissions process with all sorts of things, essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, legacy admissions, and yes, race."

    I don't know how all or even most colleges do admissions, but can speak somewhat knowledgeably about my undergrad (which has a liberal arts school and a separate engineering school).

    The school receives about twenty thousand applications for about 1,200 slots. They estimate that about 3/4ths of the applicants can do the work; the rest are removed from consideration. About 2/3ds of the remaining students - in excess of ten thousand - are recommended for admission.

    At that point, all of the other factors kick in - location, parents' circumstances, extracurriculars, "institutional needs," etc.

    Point is, they select from a pool of qualified candidates. Most everyone graduates within four years. There's some attrition at the engineering school, but it's offset by liberal arts students who transfer in.

    Contrast law schools. There aren't piles and piles of qualified students; they are often digging down to take students who probably aren't going to succeed.

    Regardless of how you view either policy, the collegiate version is, IMHO, easier to defend than the law school one. They are not really equivalent.

  • Zak Meh||

    Unless GPA is somehow normalized, it's not a very useful metric. LSAC normalizes GPA based on a comparison of schools historical LSAT scores, I believe. I guess a STEM school would likely figure this out, but it must be harder to compare high schools and I wonder if their applicant pool is large enough to get useful comparisons.

  • Lee Moore||

    Some folk are always going to be in the bottom quartile of the class. Roughly a quarter in fact. So it's no good saying "Aha, we'll solve the mismatch problem by stopping affirmative action and legacy admissions." Because there'll still be a quarter of the class in the bottom quartile. They'll just be different people.

    The question is - how big are the disadvantages (and advantages) in any particular situation where you're teaching people whose ability differs ? And that must depend on the details of the particular situation. Which will include (a) how far above your head the teaching is pitched (b) how much of a loser you feel (which may also depend on (a).

    So I think we ought to accept "mismatch theory" as a fairly obvious statement of the obvious - some students will find their clases easier than others; and then leave it to colleges to figure out how much of a spread of ability they can teach successfully in one class.

    But in all the excitement let's not forget about the mirror mismatch problem, particular in school. Putting smart children in classes where it's all going waay too slow wastes their potential (and can make them disruptive.) Which is bad for them, but also bad for society.

  • NToJ||

    "Because there'll still be a quarter of the class in the bottom quartile."

    This ignores two key components of the mismatch theory. First, there are some law students who are going to law school because of race-based preferences who otherwise would not (or should not) go because they are hopeless. The bar passage rates for Thomas Jefferson School of Law are at or below 30%, and the failure rate is higher in the bottom quartile of those law school classes.

    Second, the profile of the bottom quartile will change in the absence of race-based preferences (or at least so says the mismatch theory). The bottom quartile will be much more similar to the top quartile in terms of LSAT scores and grades than they would be without race-based preferences. The mismatch theory posits that some students who are so far removed from the rest of the class suffer academically for that reason. Removal of race-based preferences would remove most of the mismatch effects.

  • theobromophile||

    "The mismatch theory posits that some students who are so far removed from the rest of the class suffer academically for that reason. Removal of race-based preferences would remove most of the mismatch effects."


    In other words, the same student might be more likely to pass the bar having gone to a power-packed school, albeit in line with his abilities, than the higher-ranked school. If you have a 150 on your LSAT, you shouldn't go to the school with an average score of 160.

    Underlying a lot of these issues is the rather noxious ways in which law schools operate. They often equate admission to law school with success as an attorney or the "opportunity" for a successful legal career. Perhaps that is well intentioned blindness when coming from brilliant professors who went to schools for which that is true, and, from power-packed schools, willful obtuseness lest the cries for them to be shut down get too loud.

    It is my understanding that law schools tightly control their minority enrollment, ensuring that they hit what are essentially quotas. The result is that there is a lot of competition for talented minority students, who are then courted at law schools that produce this mismatch. From the perspective of the applicants, the market signals indicate that they will be strong students and have bright futures.

    But it often doesn't play out that way.

  • perlchpr||

    The mismatch theory posits that some students who are so far removed from the rest of the class suffer academically for that reason.

    What is it about law school that makes it such a team sport? i.e.: Why does the academic prowess of one's fellow students have such an impact on one's own success?

    Or is it more that if you're a 150 LSAT student, and you go to a 165 LSAT school, the course material will be presented in a manner that you won't understand it as well? I mean... aren't all law schools presenting basically the same knowledge?

    Again, these are not factors that I have seen to apply in the computer industry.

  • A law student||

    I'm thinking it's the manner of presentation. The 150 LSAT student may not delve into or understand all the nuances the 165 LSAT students do; law profs like to hide the ball, so when most of the class gets the finer details, they'll move on to the next case. The poor 150 LSAT student will walk away with a general understanding, enough to pass, but won't get as much as the other students. If he'd gone to a school where he was average, the profs might spend more time teasing out the finer details, giving the 150 LSAT student a better understanding of what's going on.

    Another possibility is the interpersonal aspect. I know a lot of my understanding has been based upon discussions with other students outside of class. If there were a school where I scored lower than the median LSAT I could see myself not getting as much out of the discussions. Given a marked discrepancy, the mismatched student is going to be missing a lot of what I find to be the most valuable part of law school, the different perspectives of your peers. No one wants to get stuck explaining the basics to the dumb kid when they could be exploring the implications with the smart kids.

  • NToJ||

    I don't know. I'll follow the data wherever it goes. I was kicked out of a study group my 1L year for being stupid/deadweight.

    It is not the case that all law schools are presenting the same information. It also emphasizes things that can't be faked by hard work (like writing). If you don't have the practice going in, you're fucked.

  • Lee Moore||

    perlchpr : Why does the academic prowess of one's fellow students have such an impact on one's own success?

    As I mentioned above, the reasons that have been advanced by mismatch theorists (that I have seen) are :

    (a) "too stupid to keep up with the class", in various manifestations and
    (b) demoralization – "what's the point in trying ?"

    Clearly personalities differ, so some people will fight hard to keep up and others will lose heart quickly. But the further behind the field you perceive yourself to be – especially if you discern that most of the rest of your class feels you're a passenger - the greater the chances that you'll give up. Who hasn't felt at some point – I'm no good at this, must be a stupid game.

    NToJ : I'll follow the data wherever it goes

    Never a bad plan.

  • phattyboombatty||

    If Harvard Law School wanted to, it could field a class of 1L's in which every student had an LSAT of 170 or higher. Yes, there would still be a bottom quarter, but that would be an extremely strong bottom quarter with a 99% graduation and bar passage rate.

  • perlchpr||

    If they can do that, why don't they? Or would it end up being ironically cruel to some of those students, who would then, by definition, despite being objectively good students, be in the bottom half of the class and therefore 'ineligible' for prestigious positions?

    Good lord. Does that imply that Harvard might be intentionally taking sacrificial law students?

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    "Good lord. Does that imply that Harvard might be intentionally taking sacrificial law students?"

    The Asian American lawsuit against Harvard undergrad would seem to answer that with a "yes."

    But Harvard, Yale, etc., have such draw that they can heavily recruit the small number of African American students who get really high scores, thus moderating the bar failure rates.

    I imagine (though I haven't seen any studies to this end) that the big problem will be at second-tier and lower schools, who are forced to accept marginal students in order to keep tuition income flowing.

  • NToJ||

    Harvard doesn't have a class rank so I don't think they care about this. The problem would be that virtually the entire class would be white or Asian, which is unattractive to Harvard.

    None of Harvard's students are sacrificial. Their low(er) scoring minority students are several standard deviations to the right of average.

  • Lee Moore||

    As pbb says, there are lower quartiles and lower quartiles. If the difficulties of mismatch are mostly about not being able to keep up, and demoralization, if you have a lower quartile that can mostly keep up, and consequently doesnt get so demoralised, then the sacrifice is smaller....maybe.

    Because the professor might then up the pace, leading to your better quality lower quartile then facing a harder time keeping up and risking demoralization. And also indicating, perhaps, that (excessive) mismatch may have a further cost - holding back the fastest.

  • Eric VonSalzen||

    This study, if I understand it, says that students with LSAT scores much under (say) 148 shouldn't go to law school at all, because there's too big a risk that they won't graduate and even if they do they won't pass the Bar. They'll have wasted three years and be left with a large amount of debt. If prospective students are informed of this, and act rationally, then many law schools would have to reduce their student bodies by (say) 20%. I don't suppose there's some "prospective law student consumer protection agency" that's committed to providing this kind of information to students who are about to become victims?

    More relevant, perhaps, to the "mismatch" issue as it affects racial affirmative action programs is whether a student with LSAT scores above (say) 148 would have a better chance of graduating and passing the Bar if he/she attends a "less selective" law school. I've heard claims that this is so, but I don't know if it's been seriously studied. I believe that we, as a society, ought to do what we reasonably can to overcome the effects of segregation and Jim Crow on our Black brothers and sisters. If steering unqualified students to Harvard Law School harms their prospects, then we (and HLS) should do something else.

  • NToJ||

    "...would have a better chance of graduating and passing the Bar if he/she attends a "less selective" law school."

    If memory serves, the data showed that students who were not as mismatched (i.e. who went to less selective law schools) had higher passage rates on their first attempt at the bar than their mismatched colleagues, but the differences subsided on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. attempts to pass the bar.

  • Eric VonSalzen||

    If that's a well-supported result, then we ought to be encouraging aspiring law students (of all races) to attend schools that match their preparation.

    And someone ought to tell the Supreme Court that "affirmative action" (at least in law schools) is yet another instance of exploitation of our Black brothers and sisters for the benefit of the White majority. Remember: The rationale for affirmative action is (supposedly) that having a significant proportion of Black students improves the educational experience of the (mostly White) student body by increasing "diversity". But if, by serving as the "diversity" component, Black students' educational success is impaired, then we are exploiting them for the benefit of (mostly) White students. And that's wrong.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    The general findings came from the public school (primary/secondary), where black students did better in schools with high percentages of white students.

    The argument that integrated schools is better than segregated ones for white students may hold for social values, but it has little foundation in terms of academic success.

  • perlchpr||

    "We have you here for our benefit, not yours" is not an aspect of Affirmative Action I had ever considered before.

  • Brian Kennedy||

    On a related note, it seemed to me that the reasoning for the post's conclusion was not completely set out in the post. The conclusion was that the low bar passage rate of students who are both in the bottom quartile and have LSAT's below 148 was due in part to mismatch. But, given what the post says about the power of LSAT's to predict bar passage rates, such students would likely be in trouble even if they were in the top quartile. Do we know what the results are for schools where LSAT 145-148 isn't bottom quartile (if there are such schools)? For all I know, there might be evidence of an additional bar-passage detriment from mismatch, if not for those levels, then perhaps for higher levels that are in different quartiles at different schools. But if so, that additional support for the conclusion doesn't seem to be set out in the post.

  • AmosArch||

    You mean to tell me the goodies people have might depend on what they did and their abilities and not the other way around 100% of the time? And throwing free goodies until everybody is equal might not work? NO WAI

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    "Standardized testing was invented as an egalitarian equalizer for college admissions. Today it is being derided and discarded to be replaced by evaluations of special research projects students have done, if they did feel-good things out in the communities, or they can present letters of recommendation from the right people, and do their parents have local political influence so that their teachers are sure to say really nice things and all."

    No disagreement, but there is a thing to keep in mind -- "Campbell's law." Not a true law but one of the better social science generalizations: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.""

    Thus -- the use of test scores has become corrupted to some -- perhaps a large -- degree.

  • bernard11||

    Broader version: Systems can be gamed, and if there is a payoff to doing so, they will be.

  • bernard11||

    It's not clear what this is supposed to show with respect to race, or anything else. Presumably the claim is that without racial preferences the average LSAT at UALR would be higher. Is that correct? If not, there is no mismatch. This is not Lake Wobegon, after all.

    The data presented is based on awfully small samples, which is a especially a problem when you are talking about a binary measure like pass/fail, as opposed to average score on the exam.

    Taking the 36 students with LSAT's of 145-6, we find that 23 passed and 13 failed. If we randomly selected ten students from the 145-6 group then almost 25% of the time five or fewer would pass.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Under Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a public law school could not reject applicants onn the basis of race absent satisfying strict scrutiny.

    Did the supreme court carve out an exception to Brown?

  • Diane Klein||

    "intelligence is inherited" - however, knowledge of things like "regression to the mean" clearly is not.

  • Lee Moore||

    Clearly knowledge of things like "regression to the mean" is not inherited. But even when acquired from the environment, the concept is often misunderstood.

    If you measure a man's height and he comes out in the 90th percentile, the odds are that some of his excess height over the mean is down to measurement error and some is down to him actually being taller than the mean. So if you measure him again, you may find that he falls to the 88th percentile. This is not because he's shrunk, it's because the positive measurement error you got on the first test is more likely to shrink or reverse on the second test than to stay the same or get bigger in the positive direction. But since we know how to measure height with quite small measurement errors, the second measurement is not likely to fall by much compared to the first. Our man is still overwhelmingly liklely to come out on the second measurement as well above average height.

    Although the IQ difference between father (say) and son is not going to be down to measurement error alone and will include the effects of random and environmental factors too, the principle as regards the application of "reversion to the mean" is the same. It's a statistical effect whereby we expect outliers to include an element of "it's really there" and "chance." In round 2 we don't expect chance to give the same boost. On average.

  • Lee Moore||

    In the case of IQ, measurement error is unlikely to be a big factor since measurements tend to be quite consistent (ie the measurement is "reliable.") If you do an IQ test every day for a month, you may need the first few days to get into the swing of it and get some practice, but after that your scores will be pretty consistent.

    On average, we expect the children of high IQ parents to have lower IQs than their parents. But we would still expect them to have higher IQs than the general population. It's not "reversion to the mean" it's reversion towards the mean."

    And the amount of the reversion depends on the relative sizes of the "it's really there" factor and the "chance" factor. If ARWP is correct that intelligence is largely inherited, then we would expect the reversion towards the mean to be relatively small. But if intelligence is largely determined by chance and environmental factors we would expect the reversion to be large. (Note that for these purposes "chance" includes different genetic combinations, even though the genes are all "inherited."

  • Zak Meh||

    The main takeaway to me was this shocker: "Of course, prospective students may seek this information today -- but, sadly, institutions have been less than transparent about this kind of admissions data. Indeed, I had to sue my school under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to get some of it."

    Yikes. Law schools are not your friends. The only thing you should trust is the money they offer you.

  • ipsquire||

    Why doesn't this turn into a conversation about the poor quality of the purported "top" schools who are only able to get the best students past the bar exam?

    It's almost like the whole law school and bar exam are elaborate barriers to entry that would be better handled by letting market forces identify the good lawyers.

  • Diane Klein||

    There are no "purported 'top' schools who are only able to get the best students past the bar exam." What school in what jurisdiction do you think you are talking about? How we control entry to the profession is a serious question. "Letting the market decide" is like letting the market decide who is a good oral surgeon. Not a super-terrific plan.

  • Diane Klein||

    A few thoughts. Today's law students have very fine-grained data about LSAT/UGPA at the schools they apply to and later go to. Any student prepared to be honest with themselves knows right where they are at the school they go to - and what that means about likely rank. But LSAT also under- and over-predicts for discrete groups (not just racial groups - for example, military experience makes LSAT an over-predictor; for former teachers, it's an under-predictor) - and most students don't know anything about that (nor do most admissions committees, unless they do the research). Next, for many law schools, the LSAT "band" (from 25th to 75th percentile) is rather narrow - often 5 points or so. The LSAC itself doesn't claim that scores are accurate to the very point - a score correlates to a range that often closely matches that of the entire student body at a given law school. Data about predicting performance will lie elsewhere (not to say schools can't collect it - consider undergrad institution, major, age, SES, etc. - all the zillion factors that all admissions committees also have to factor in). And last (for now at least), whether the bottom quartile, or bottom half, of a class is in real danger of not passing the bar depends very much on the state and institution. As the old joke goes, "Do you know what the call the person who graduates last in their class from Harvard Medical School?" "Doctor."

  • mkb-sdny||

    Two issues:

    1) Public schools like UCLA Law (where I attended) cannot base scholarships on race so they must compete for a pool of African American students with lower LSAT scores - the others get better financial and other perk package offers from private law schools. This is born out in the research.

    2) I grew up in a white working class family, attended a basic state school and was working full time in a stressful job when I took the LSAT. Because I did not expect to get admitted into an elite school, I did almost nothing to prepare to take the LSAT and took it ill and on no sleep. My score was only 158 but I was admitted to UCLA Law. I graduated in the top 30% of my class and passed the bar on my first try (very confident in my performance despite having taken less than one-half of the bar courses during law school).

    I would say, rather than "informing students of THEIR individual likelihood of success, as predicted with some strength by LSAT scores," the law schools should simply provide the relevant data and allow students to self-select. I knew how little effort I had put into prepping for the LSAT when I decided to attend UCLA, and that alone gave me the confidence to overlook my relatively low incoming LSAT score status.


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