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Trump Effect? Number of students taking law school entrance exam soars

More students are interested in law school since the November 2016 election. (MyNorthwest photo)

In the weeks following the November presidential election, Professor Kellye Testy sensed an uptick in students’ interest in law school, particularly following legal battles over newly-elected President Donald Trump’s federal immigration ban.

Testy, who at that time was the dean of the University of Washington School of Law, saw a wave of law school queries from curious students. She’d heard from professors and law students that the legal community’s activism at Sea-Tac International Airport, for example, had generated buzz on her campus and others.

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But anecdotes aren’t confirmation and she knew that the past several years hadn’t been kind to law schools nationally. Most saw flat or declining enrollment. But in June, she saw some proof that the buzz might have substance when she started her new gig as the president and CEO of the National Law School Admissions Council: The number of people across the country taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) jumped by 20 percent in 2017.

Testy says she knows who to thank: President Donald Trump.

“I think there is a connection,” she said. “When you see people like our attorney general and Judge Robart and others standing up for justice and saying nobody is above the law — not even our president — I think it puts law in a different light and it really inspires young people to really make a difference.”

In late January, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the nation’s first lawsuit in an attempt to block President Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees and limiting travel by citizens of seven majority Muslim countries. In the suit, Ferguson said that the proposed ban was an extension of the administration’s, “animus and desire to harm a particular group.” At Sea-Tac and other international airports, attorneys showed up in an attempt to provide free legal representation to people newly being refused entry to the U.S.

Days later, Judge James Robart temporarily blocked the travel ban, calling into question the administration’s motives and proof of the need for such restrictions.

Testy said these very public fights renewed interest in the law among students. “I would describe it as a reawakening to the connection between justice and the law,” she said.

Nationally, the number of test takers who took the LSAT by June 2017 was 27,606. It was an increase of 19.8 percent or 4,555 test takers compared to June 2016. Moreover, that data appears to be backed by attendance at national law school conferences where students shop for law schools. Testy said attendance was up 30 percent from the previous year at recent national law school forum she attended in Washington D.C.

“What that tells us is that there should be a spike in a year in the number of people who apply for law school,” she said.

That, however, remains uncertain. There isn’t always a correlation between taking the LSAT and applying to law school, professors agree. The UW School of Law has shown only a slight uptick in students for next year. Same for Seattle University School of Law.

Tina Ching, the associate librarian at the SU law school, said if the spike in law school entrance exams increases actual law school enrollment, it would not be for another year.

“While the number of June LSAT takers were up, currently applications nationally are only up 1.3 percent,” Ching said in an email. “It is likely too soon to see a spike in applications based on the increased number of LSAT takers as June and September test takers will likely apply for the 2018 entering class.”

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