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Algorithm-Based Tool Aims to Help Hone Law School Search

Oct. 2, 2019, 10:00 AM

AccessLex, a nonprofit focused on legal education, says it wants to help prospective law students get beyond test scores and rankings to better target their law school choices with a new online search tool.

XploreJD uses a proprietary algorithm to evaluate factors such as location and graduation rates outside the realm of rankings, and help aspiring law students find a good fit.

“There are plenty of services that rank law schools or project likelihood of admission to a particular law school, and while such information may have value, we believe students should have a free and easy way to consider and prioritize all the factors that will impact their law school decision in a holistic and well-informed way,” said Christopher P. Chapman, AccessLex president and chief executive officer.

Law school enrollment has ticked up in recent years after falling off precipitously because of the troubled legal job market in the years after the Great Recession. Enrollment hit 111,560 in fall 2018, up slightly from the prior year, according to American Bar Association figures.

Prior to that, fewer law school graduates had been able find a job suited to their legal credentials within a year of graduating, and that discouraged students from enrolling.

At the same time, law school debt has been climbing to the six-figure level and law students have become more conscious of linking job prospects to the cost of a three-year professional degree.

AccessLex and other groups are trying to help smooth the path to law school by offering lower cost bar exam preparation courses.

Also, prospective law students can compare some data on lstreports.com, offered by Law School Transparency, another legal education site. Students can compare data for three schools at a time in areas such as employment outcomes, admissions and education cost.

The XploreJD website provides a series of questions which can be completed initially in 15 minutes in six areas for students to look at their needs and goals. Then the proprietary algorithm matches those factors with school-specific information to come up with a list of law schools that match the student’s individual criteria.

The site links to additional information about those law schools so applicants can do a side-by-side comparison.

Students “should think about where their academic credentials will place them in a school’s incoming class, but they should also consider other aspects of fit, such as location, size and diversity, as well as graduation outcomes, such as bar passage, clerkship opportunities, and job placement rates,” said Tiffane Cochran, AccessLex’s managing director of research.

The search tool, she added, is telling students that they are “more than a score.”

The online tool also allows the prospective student to examine school cost and enrollments, diversity makeup, curriculum offerings as well as graduation outcomes, including bar passage rates, clerkship opportunities and job placement rates.

“We’ve created XploreJD as a learning experience —a first step in a student’s journey to informed decisions and law school success,” said Cynthia Cassity, AccessLex’s vice president for education and strategic engagement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com