Podcast: What to Expect in the 2023-24 Law School Admissions Cycle (+ Q&A) with Mike Spivey & Anna Hicks-Jaco

In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike has a conversation with Spivey Consulting's COO Anna Hicks-Jaco about what to expect during the upcoming cycle, her perspective as both a recent Dean of Admissions and relatively recent applicant, and advice for applicants getting ready to apply.

Mike and Anna mention several resources and past podcasts in this episode:

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Full Transcript:

Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, a little bit of everything. Maybe this will be a little bit of everything, but highly centralized on law school admissions and what to expect this upcoming cycle. I'm joined with our COO Anna Hicks-Jaco. Hi, Anna.

Anna: Hi, Mike. Long time no talk.

Mike: Yes, since about 30 seconds ago. Anna is just coming off a stint as an acting Dean of Admission, and we thought this would be a perfect time to have someone who was just in the trenches of admission, not only helping with last cycle but forecasting this cycle, for Anna and I to get together and talk about what is our best guess about how this entire cycle is going to shake out. Care for us to try to do that, Anna?

Anna: I think that works. You can ask me some questions. I'll definitely be asking you some questions.

Mike: We’ll ask each other questions back and forth. I already have one teed for you if you are ready.

Anna: I guess so!

Mike: All right, I'll bring it on. So, Anna's coming off this experience where she was a hyper-vigilant applicant—that's the polite way of saying you got really into the process. Right, Anna?

Anna: Oh, yes. I got embarrassingly into the process, in a very online way.

Mike: You have an example of how deep you dug into the process?

Anna: Oh, man. Okay. Now it's Reddit and, like, various Discords and other things, but when I was applying, it was Top Law Schools. And if you want to know how deep into this process I got, I have multiple friends who I met on Top Law Schools and hung out with many times in person. So that is the extent of how embarrassingly into this process I was.

Mike: Are you still in touch with them today?

Anna: I'm still in touch with a few of them today.

Mike: You play Dungeons & Dragons every Thursday night online with them?

Anna: That is a friend from my brief stint in law school, but he was not hyper-online about it. So, I was the lame one there.  

Mike: I won't give away all your secrets to the public, but if you need to get in touch with Anna on a Thursday night, good luck. Not only a very attentive applicant who got to know the nuances of the application process… incidentally, how we ended up hiring Anna was from meeting Anna through the application process, and now she runs the daily operations of our firm.

Anna: That's a great point. Really the most sustaining thing that I got from Top Law Schools was my entire career and knowing you.

Mike: That's right. And you got this incredible opportunity to go into a law school and be a Dean of Admission. And so you've seen it from both sides and relatively recently. So maybe the only person on the planet as far as law school admissions who has been a recent applicant who got admitted to a number of top ten law schools, who became an admissions—not necessarily a consultant, but part of the admissions consulting side running our day-to-day operation at Spivey Consulting—and then a Dean of Admission.

So from that perspective—this is not about the upcoming cycle; we'll get to that—what advice would the Anna Hicks-Jaco today with all this 360-degree perspective give to the Anna Hicks who created her top-law-schools.com account today, the day she created it?

Anna: Oh man, yeah, that's an interesting question, because I think if you'd asked me even just a few years ago this same question, I think I would have answered it differently. For a long time, my thinking on this, as I reflected back on how obsessive I got about the admissions process—which was in my mind too obsessive—my thought had been, if I were advising myself back then and if I were advising someone right now who is as obsessive as I was, I would probably say try to pull back a little bit, try to do other things, fill your time with other things that you’re passionate about and excited about. But I think my answer to that has changed a little bit over time because now here I am ten years later and admissions is my career—and I like admissions. I think a big part of why I was so obsessed with it was because whatever part of our brains that keys into the things that we get excited about and get passionate about liked admissions. And I think that was something about me. So I guess the advice that I would now give is, not necessarily “stop being so obsessed with admissions and do other things”—I think it would be closer to, “get curious about why you're so invested in this process, why you're so obsessed with this process.” Because I think that part of it would certainly be ‘admissions is interesting and fun and I like it,’ and then another part of it would be having to do with wanting these more complicated sort of inner factors that—I was not a very self-reflective person as a 20- to 21 year-old. I've worked on that a great deal intentionally. I'm so impressed with all of the 20- and 21- and 22 year-olds and 23 year-olds we meet who are so self-aware and understanding of themselves, because I just was not that way at that time. So I think my advice would be to just get curious, think a little bit more deeply about why that is the case, and then pull back on the parts of it that aren't helpful and aren't healthy. But that doesn't necessarily mean I need to be less interested in admissions, because I love admissions. Admissions is great!

Mike: The admissions book that you and I and two others wrote, The PowerScore/Spivey Consulting Law School Admissions Bible, is right behind you. I can see it.

Anna: Oh yeah, it's proudly displayed upon my bookshelf.

Mike: Clearly you love admissions. And we do have the incredible fortune of working with people who are highly self-reflective and introspective. And we had Dr. Gabor Maté and Dr. Judson Brewer, literally two of the world's leading experts on what they do, say the same things.  If you're curious and introspective about yourself, “know thyself” is what Gabor Maté quoted on our podcast. But that's going to be reflected in a stronger application is I think what you're saying too. The best personal statements or applications always are the self-reflective introspective ones.

Anna: Totally, completely agreed. I got some of that self-reflection and some of those ideas from us interviewing those people for our podcast, because they were incredibly valuable conversations, I hope not just for our listeners, but certainly for me as well.

Mike: So, agreed. Every time we have a world-famous expert, we learn from them. Also, I have to read their books to interview them. So yeah.

Anna: You learn a lot from that.

Mike: Is there anything as far as how you made admissions decisions when you were last cycle a Dean of Admission that would have been helpful for you to know, or more to the point for our audience now to know? Because I can think back to when I was at Vanderbilt, now we're talking 20 years ago, things that still stand out as helpful and harmful. And I'll give you an example. I used to count the number of sentences that started with the letter “I,” and if it hit a certain threshold, I just said “this person is not thinking or trying hard in their writing if every sentence starts with I.” “I worked at Disney,” “I had this great job.” So that was almost a tool of mine of how much effort the person was—and writing a good personal statement is not writing one draft, it’s editing and editing.

So what are some of those kinds of lessons that you can impart on people as they're starting this admission cycle?

Anna: Yeah, I mean it's tricky because Mike, I had really strong advisors when I was applying to law school, you know? I had you and Karen Buttenbaum who were advising me on how to put together my applications in my full process. So honestly, there's not a lot that I was doing that I think back and I'm like, “oh man, that was a really bad decision,” because you guys were there to stop me from doing those.

Mike: I'll say you were a great client, and you went to a top ten law school and they paid you to go to law school. So you got a full scholarship plus and it worked out well for you.

Anna: It worked out, it worked out. I would say for the sort of “before” periods—since when I was actually applying, you guys were helping me—but before I was applying and before I met or worked with you both, I think probably the main thing that I was doing that I didn't need to be doing was spending all of my time trying to collect all of these anecdotes from applicants and making my own conclusions and assumptions based on, “oh, this is the common wisdom of applicants.” I think in online communities that are a little bit smaller, a little bit more specific, there can come about sort of a common wisdom that is sometimes right, and most often has at least a grain of truth, but is often pretty misguided and can often hurt you more than it helps you. I think that, as an applicant, you want to analyze every aspect of what other applicants are doing and how you can best optimize what you're doing.

And from the perspective of having been an Admissions Dean, I would think more deeply, more broadly about sort of the important parts of the process. I think I was just giving equal weight and equal attention to applying the first week that applications open, and this very specific way of wording my fee waiver request email, things like that where, I think, if I had been more knowledgeable about admissions from the first-hand perspective that I have now, I think I would have been able to more accurately discern what's actually important and then what's just details that I'm putting unnecessary importance on because I want to fixate on every single little detail of this process to optimize my chances. Which there's some good in that, but then there’s certainly some bad in that also.

Mike: Yeah, I think that's super wise advice. I'm going to give you the cringe-worthy cliché from my football days when I was a football player. but we had on our helmets W-I-N which obviously spells “win,” but the phrase behind WIN was “what's important now?”

Anna: I like that.

Mike: Believe it or not, it helped in football to prioritize, but it really helps because the priorities during the admissions cycle shift as the cycle goes on. Let me give you an example. Priority early on is being your true self in writing your application, not on an arbitrary timeline but an application for yourself that is then vetted by your friends, your family, whoever for a gut check, as you and I have talked about many times. You don't want to be writing to impress the admissions committee, not early on. You want to be writing the truest version of what's important to you. Later in the cycle the biggest priority might be time to pull back on the throttle a little bit and give myself a month off from the law school admissions process because it's a slow cycle, and if other people are pinging Harvard Law School every day for status updates, you're actually trying to stand out by being the chill person that says, “hey you know I spent three months, I just wanted to let you know I'm still super interested and I understand how busy you are.” So the priorities change as the cycle goes on.

Anna: Certainly, I think that the priorities change and what's important can change. Speaking to specifically the part that you were talking about with the personal statements and writing for yourself, that one's super interesting, because I have heard you give that advice for years and I have also given that advice based on your expertise, as my sort of second-hand advice. But being in a Dean of Admissions position and reading applications, now I know it first-hand. You read so many personal statements that are just so obviously being written to sound as smart as possible and, “these are all the reasons why I would be a great lawyer and I did XYZ.” And sometimes they'll include a grain of something personal and a grain of something important, and it's one sentence or two sentences and you just wish, “Oh I wish you'd written this whole essay about this, because this is clearly what's important to you and what's interesting to you, but instead you spent it with a paragraph about moot court and then a paragraph about your internship with the attorney or whatever.” And you can just see when people really keyed into something that was important to them, and then you can see when people write about what they think admissions officers want to hear.

Mike: I knew you were going to experience that from the day that you were put in that position as Dean of Admission. I knew you were finally going to see what I was talking about when someone's writing for the wrong target audience—and the wrong target audience is the Office of Admissions—because they always stand out, and not in a favorable way.

We can move on, Anna, if you want. Have you imparted enough sagacity about your learning experience?

Anna: I don't know about that, but I've certainly imparted, I think, all that I have in me at the moment. Can I ask you a question?

Mike: Yeah, remember when we did that game where you could ask me any question if I could throw the baseball further than you could?

Anna: Oh yeah.

Mike: We could do the same thing, you can ask me a personal question, but probably the audience wants to hear about admissions.

Anna: Yeah, that's fair, our audience probably wants to hear admissions questions.

We always do some predictions for the upcoming cycle, and I want to hear your predictions. What’s going to happen this cycle? I want zero errors, zero mistakes. I want a perfect prediction, let's go.

Mike: Okay, no pressure then. If you want zero mistakes… we don't know exactly what's going to happen. We've been pretty lucky the last two years as far as the applicant pool predictions. So two years ago we predicted 12% up and it was 11.9% up or something like that, 11.7. And then last year we predicted 1-5% down and it was 1.9% down.

Anna: I think something like that. Honestly, Mike, it always surprises me how close we've gotten.

Mike: So just for the record, it's just as much luck—we put a lot of effort into these predictions, but you’ve got to be pretty lucky to be that precise. So I think we're due for maybe not being quite on, but I'm going to guess 1-5% up as far as applicants, and if you wanted me to give a specific number I'll say 2.5% up that's based on the test-taking data we've seen.

Now, the data's getting really wonky because of the August test failure, which means the September test numbers don't compare with anything we can possibly look at. A first-ever that the LSAT has failed. They had a three-hour failure once when Microsoft went down, but it came back online.

Anna: This August incident seems totally unlike anything I've remotely seen before.

Mike: It's a once-in-my-25-year career thing where the whole test failed, at least the virtual. So it makes prediction a little bit harder at this stage, but the indicators we had right before that debacle would give us a sense that things are going to be a little bit up.

Let me add one more thing. Most experts are saying now we might not have a recession. What scares me is that Warren Buffett and the guy who predicted the “big short” are both saying we are going to have a recession. There's a saying, “if you took all the economists in the world and lined them up, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.” You're always getting all the economists on both sides of the fence. If there is a recession, that 2.5% increase in applicants might go all the way up to 7%. I've lived through multiple recessions, so when people can't get jobs their fall-back plan is to go to graduate school. So we'll say 2.5% up.

I'm going to say the slowest cycle in the history of law school admissions. Now, I haven't been alive for the history of law school admissions, so it's a bold statement, but this is going to be an incredibly slow cycle, and let me tell you why. As you've seen, early indicator—and not every school has opened their applications yet; only a smaller percentage have—the applications are longer. More essays, and more thorough. By definition, the reading of those applications should be longer, more deliberate, and more thorough. You have the U.S. News evisceration of the LSAT and GPA. And our data expert, Justin Kane, played around with the numbers; I think he had a school where, if that school went down two LSAT points and a tenth of a GPA but held everything constant, they would lose 1 raw score or a 0.5 raw score in the rankings, whereas last year they would have lost like 7 raw score points. So point being this: if the law school is concerned about rankings, they're going to look at the weight of the outputs, bar passage and employment, which add up to 58%, all the admissions metrics only add up to 10%, and they're going to say the following. I don't believe anyone said this publicly yet before. I think the Dean of the Law School is going to say, “do your best job in admissions, don't give out a penny until March. We may need to take half the admissions resources and shift them into employability and outreach to employers and student-funded jobs.”

So there's good news and bad news here for applicants. I think the days of, “I killed the numbers and my full tuition scholarship is coming,” is nearing an end. Now, law schools are slow to change. So even though law schools can see the same weight of metrics we can see, if I were sitting on a 177 and a 4.0 GPA and I was saying, “am I going to apply this cycle or next cycle?” I would 100% throw in my application this cycle and expect a lot of money, because next cycle I think a lot of these budgets are going to be shifted. Law schools don't have endless streams of money. So if you have to give to employment, you have to take away from somewhere else. You can't take away from tenured faculty salaries.

Anna: Yeah, that's an interesting point for sure. And I'm glad you were able to do all that. That nugget of wisdom for all those 177/4.0s out there. I think the flip side of that is that—if you are someone with great work experience, excellent letters of recommendation from your supervisors, cool stuff on your resume, strong undergraduate GPA but maybe your LSAT is a little under where it would ideally be for a school that you're targeting, I think we're coming into potentially a phase of law school admissions where that applicant has much stronger chances than they would have one year ago, two years ago, certainly better than ten years ago.

Mike: Yeah that's where I was going. There's actually two pieces of good news. We're almost in, like, they call it the “Goldilocks Zone” in science where there will be smart human-like life in other solar systems because of all the right conditions. We're almost in the Goldilocks Zone of law school admissions. Because schools are a little bit slow to change, I actually still think merit aid is going to go out, I think it's just going to go out later. And I think decisions are going to be made later.

Anna: So, you talked about the August LSAT debacle as it relates to our predictive power and our data being less comparable to prior years. Do you think that the August LSAT is going to have impacts on the actual pace of the cycle as well?

Mike: I think there's lots of factors that are going to have impact on the pace. There's the SCOTUS decision. There's the diminishment of the U.S. News metrics. There's the fact that an incredible number—maybe four to five thousand or more—people weren't able to take the August test. As far as the applicant pool, that's so significant that schools are going to have to wait. So all these things are going to slow down.

I know I’m almost hammering this point too much. It's going to be a slow cycle. But what's going to happen later are two good things. I think people with strong numbers are still going to get sort of on par the amount of merit aid that they’ve gotten in past years. There's not going to be an increase. So we've had a 25-year arms race of increases, and there's not going to be an increase this year. But at minimum, my best guess I should say, it's going to be on par with similar years. This is where we get into the Goldilocks Zone.

But then later, once that money is given out, because medians matter so little in U.S. News & World Report now, and because admissions officers really like to admit people who have kick-ass applications, who present well in person and show up and put their best foot forward to the admissions office, and people who are employable, which tend to be the people who interview well or write essays well or get to know the admissions officer well. You're in this zone where you're going to see people, unlike I think in my long history of doing this, have a real shot of getting into stretch schools. It's just going to be late, late, late in the game. If I were applying to law school with all I've done in my career as far as knowing about admissions, this would be the year I applied to the most stretch schools than ever before.

Anna: Yeah, no, I mean, that makes sense to me. I do want to briefly back up just for anybody—I feel like we're so in the weeds of this all the time, but for anybody who's just coming into this process right now, just for your context. Mike, you were talking about this. U.S. News & World Report used to weight incoming LSAT median and incoming undergraduate GPA for the entering 1L class pretty highly in their rankings. And this past year, after all of those schools boycotted the rankings or chose not to submit their data to the rankings, to U.S. News, U.S. News obviously—they had to reconfigure their whole methodology, because they couldn't include all of those metrics that schools were not submitting to them anymore. And they decreased the weight of median LSAT and median undergraduate GPA to under half of what it was before. So median LSAT, median test score is now 5% of their formula and undergraduate GPA is 4%, whereas collectively they used to be, I think, 20%. So that's pretty huge.

Mike: So let me tell you another piece of news that's very much in the weeds that I don't think anyone knows about. Just this past week, Anna, the American Bar Association Legal Ed Council met, and they called on schools—not that they made schools, but they called on schools—to offer more variances for things like JD-Next, which is an alternative to the LSAT. And I don't know if that has to do with the failed LSAT; the meeting did come after the failed LSAT. But I think that another thing that's going to slow the cycle down, but make it a broader perspective cycle, is you have the American Bar Association saying, “hey, don't just look at the LSAT, ask for variances for things like JD-Next.” And we'll put a link to  JD-Next in the show notes.

Anna: Yeah, JD-Next is cool. I did some work with it when I was in the Dean of Admissions position, and it's a neat program, it really is. We won't get too into the weeds of that; I think that's such a hyper-specific audience.

I do think that seems to be the direction that things are heading in the long term. And you've disclaimed this, but I also want to repeat that institutions tend to move slowly, change happens slowly. So I certainly would not expect a bunch of law schools are suddenly going to super diminish the LSAT and how they consider applications. I think there are lots of reasons, some good/some bad, that they're not going to do that. But it does very much seem like that is overall long term the direction that law school admissions is heading. I think for a long time they were so, so focused on the numbers, so focused on the LSAT, so focused on the undergraduate GPA, to the point that it crowded out other really important things. And it does seem like we are heading toward those factors being less all-encompassing as far as what you should expect for your admissions decisions. And more holistic—to use a word that I know a lot of admissions people hate, but I think it's appropriate and relevant here.

Mike: These things are always on the pendulum. So 10 years from now, it might swing back. But we are headed towards a more holistic, and that’s a word that I've hated for 25 years; I only hated it because every law school said on their brochures, “we have a holistic blah, blah, blah,” so anything that's overused, I tend to cringe away from. But in the foreseeable future, this cycle more so and then the following cycle even more so, we are headed towards a more holistic admissions experience. It'll be a longer one and might take more work and more essays, but it's going to be more holistic.

Did you see what St. John's undergrad did?

Anna: No, I didn't.

Mike: They said you can opt out of the application and just have a discussion with the Admissions Office.

Anna: Oh, very interesting.

Mike: That is the extreme in holistic admission.

Anna: Very extreme, yes.

Mike: In that discussion, you're admitted or you're not admitted. Now, maybe during the discussion, they say things like, “what's your GPA, what's your class rank?” I don't know. I'm not applying to St. John's undergrad.

Anna: I hope they ask them for concrete factors about what they’ve done.

Mike: Yeah, because you and I are both in agreement, measurement matters. You can't just talk your way into law school. But this is what's important for the listeners to know. Because of the diminishment of numbers, there is an opportunity that if you really, really shine—and shine could mean many different things; it can mean going to a forum, going early, because usually there's not many people early or hanging around towards the very end and having a one-on-one with the Dean of Admission for five minutes, and she or he gives you their contact information, and you send that polite follow-up email, and then four months later you have a phone conversation with them and you’re below both medians and you’re admitted.—I'm not saying it's guaranteed, but all the atmospheric conditions are there so that schools are incentivized to do things that. Quite frankly, my friends who are Deans of Admissions and your friends who are Deans of Admissions have been wanting to do more of in their 20-, 25-year career. Which is, let's admit the people that impress us, not just the people that move the U.S. News rankings. So we're heading in that direction.

Anna: There's been so much pressure on law school admissions officers, and you certainly know this better than me, Mike. But even if everybody at your law school hates the rankings and thinks that the rankings are arbitrary and shouldn't hold the power that they do, the reality that those law schools are working under is that, if you go up in the rankings, that has a lot of institutional benefits for your school, for your students, for your graduates. And in some ways that made sense as a mandate of, we have to focus on these things because that will increase our ranking, and that will increase all of these other positive things. I absolutely agree with you that I think the vast majority of admissions officers have wished that things were less numbers-focused than they have been for a while.

Mike: A hundred percent. And to your point that there's a lot of pressure on them, the pressure doesn't even only come from the Dean. I can think of a state school where the Governor really wanted their state's law school to be one of the top public law schools. So the pressure from the Governor is then felt by the Dean that then gets passed down to the admissions office. I’m not saying this is good or bad. I'm just describing a real-life scenario. So the admissions office by definition has to focus more on numbers than they would probably would like to, when they would like to focus on the 30-minute conversation they had with a person who showed up one day and they had 30 minutes of time.

Anna: I do want to disclaim, certainly there are good reasons to care about the LSAT ,and you were saying like measurement matters, because objective indicators are helpful in comparing applicants. For example, undergraduate GPAs cannot be compared one-to-one in the same way that a standardized test score can be. And I don't think that you think that the LSAT's importance is going to just be completely diminished and schools are just going to be admitting people with no regard for their LSAT score whatsoever. But this sort of hyper-focus on it that has been the reality of law school admissions for a long time, I do think is going to decrease.

Mike: And this goes into what happened in August, because I think it's important to note—and I don't want to go too deep into this—a lot of demons popped up on the virtual test-takers’ side. And what I mean by that is, there wasn't one identifiable cause. People were getting different errors across the board. You can't say it was one failure, it seemed like a system-wide failure. In some cases, the proctor didn't show up; in some cases proctors weren't trained; in some cases your password didn't work. Here's where I'm getting at about this complete disaster of an LSAT and how it impacts the cycle. I'll give a specific example. Some students have talked about how their proctors weren’t trained, and the proctors continually said during the test, “don't touch your nose, don't touch your nose.” So then the student got in their own head and spiraled down and got a score much lower than probably their practice scores. Now take that one example and multiply it by 4,000 or 5,000, I'm guessing, I don't know the exact number. It could be 2.5, it could be 7.5 or 6.5 thousand people that were messed up by the virtual LSAT failure in August. Some of those people, Anna, they can't apply again for family reasons, life reasons, they have to submit. The reason I know this is I've talked to a few of those people.

You talked about the points of the LSAT. The LSAT measurement does matter, but we have a problem. We have an admission cycle problem. What's going to happen if you're a Dean of Admissions and you’re comparing someone who took the August LSAT in person with no glitches, versus someone who had not only a glitch on the first August test, but they then showed up in Manhattan on the make-up test the next week and the building wouldn't let them in to take the LSAT? Again, I think it's going to lead to a slower cycle. I hope to God if there's a huge difference in—disparity in—August scores between virtual takers, 60%, and in-person takers, 40%, if there's a three-point macro average LSAT disparity, I hope LSAC shares that with admissions officers. And they have a long history of hiding this data if the data makes LSAC look bad.

Anna: Yeah, I was going to say Mike, I would not expect us to get that data. I feel like—exactly as you said, every time that this sort of thing comes up of, “oh, are we going to get this data or are we not?” If it's favorable then we tend to get it, and if it's not favorable we pretty much never get it.

Mike: I've talked to a number of deans in the last two weeks, and they're aware of this issue, and they're aware that they can say to LSAC, “it's very important for us, to make the right kinds of important admissions decisions, that you share this data with us.”

Anna: Yeah, I hope they do, because certainly—I think we've all heard horror stories of back when the LSAT was entirely in-person, your standardized test story of there was a marching band outside, or somebody was sitting right next to me and they were coughing and sneezing on me the entire test. Things happen. It's this time where it happened to so many people globally across an entire administration of the LSAT, that's a whole new ball game.

Mike: Yeah, there's a best-case scenario where people retake, they bring their A game and there's not this disparity between virtual scores for people who took the August test because they were able to retake. Best-case scenari—and I guarantee you if it's normalized, LSAC will share it—the scores are kind of equal and admissions officers can weigh people equally.

Anna: Well, I hope that's the case for the applicants’ sake.

Mike: To be determined, but I have a feeling if we don't hear a word from LSAC, then it's not the best-case scenario. And that's going to again cause a pause in how applications are read. If it sits in the admissions officers' mind, “oh my god, this person just took the August test and they just took it virtually and they had to retake the next week. How do I weigh them?” And so maybe they put them in a file and wait for LSAC to release data that might not ever be coming.

Anna: No—geez, that would be rough.

Mike: The theme of this podcast could almost be ‘slow at first, but maybe forgiving later.’

Anna: Yeah, I mean, I actually think apart from the absolute agony—and I do not want to minimize it—of having to wait 4, 5, 6+ months for your decisions, and especially if you're so invested in this process, I know it can feel awful. But apart from that, I think the slowness of the cycle is probably not a negative for applicants for the most part. You did a recent podcast about this, about the myth of the early application bump. I think there's this idea that, oh, if you apply in September that's favorable for your application over if you apply in October. To whatever extent that might have slightly been the case, even more so, I think, not at all with this August LSAT. I think that admissions officers are going to be exceptionally forgiving—maybe ‘forgiving’ isn't even the right word, because there's nothing to forgive—but I don't think they're going to worry at all about you applied in September or October or November, especially if you have that August LSAT on your—

Mike: 100%. This cycle is impossible to totally predict. I think LSAT scores are another thing we should touch on. I think they might normalize, for abnormal reasons. Like people who are crushed a little bit by the LSAT August failure and scores come down a little bit, we've been inorganically high at the tail-end, at the 170+ end, for multiple years now. And you might see a normalized bell curve like we saw for so many years before the LSAT-Flex.

Anna: I do think that if that happens, I would not rely on it to continue to be the case in future years, because exactly as you said, it would be for abnormal reasons, would be my guess.

Mike: And then I have another prediction, which I think people should hold me to if I'm wrong. We just put out that grid of the new medians that are coming out. We have maybe eight as of today. New medians for schools, new LSAT, new GPA. People should check it out.

Anna: You can find the link on our website, right at the top.

Mike: Right. So I think next year you're going to see a ton of +0 LSAT. There's no U.S. News & World Report return, and even though schools move slowly, they can see the waves enough to say, “There's no need for us to play this LSAT game anymore. We can get off the LSAT carousel.”

Anna: Yeah, I think it would be different if admissions officers inherently greatly valued the LSAT, just because rankings change wouldn't mean that admissions officers' values are going to change overnight. But I think—exactly what we were talking about earlier. I think for a long time admissions officers have wanted to place less emphasis on the LSAT, and this is in some ways kind of permission to do so.

Mike: Exactly. So I think that a little bit less focus on LSAT-centric, GPA-centric applicants. There’s going to be more work for applicants to do. You can see it on our blog. The optional essays that are popping up are more work. But the good news is, don't rush your application.

Anna: Yeah, absolutely, I think trying to get your application in super early is less worthwhile this year than ever.

Mike: I have a question for you, Anna.

Anna: Okay.

Mike: You can ask me the same question back.

Anna: Okay.

Mike: In fact, maybe we've already touched upon it. But what's your biggest concern for applicants this cycle? And then what's your biggest hope for applicants this cycle?

Anna: I am concerned that this cycle is going to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety among applicants. We've talked to mental health experts about this, but uncertainty is such a huge part of anxiety and of stress. And there's so much uncertainty this cycle. You and I have been doing this, we have been in the weeds of admissions, you for 25+ years, me for going on 10 years now, and everything that we're saying is also just speculation. We don't know either. That is even more so for applicants. So much is different, so much has changed. We haven't been in it for a few years, but there was a period of time where law school admissions was pretty predictable based on your numbers and pretty predictable based on historical data, just looking at how things had happened in the past cycles. And we are very much not in that world now. So I’m worried that there's going to be a ton of stress and a ton of anxiety, and that's just going to be a bad environment for applicants for a number of reasons.

My biggest point of optimism is sort of what we've been talking about. I think that applicants are going to have more opportunities to prove themselves to law schools outside of just the LSAT. I think absolutely, if you're someone who wasn't able to go to a prestigious school and haven't gotten big internships or whatever and you knock it out of the park and you have that 178 LSAT, I think that still is going to tell the admissions office a lot about you. This person has a great deal of academic aptitude or intellectual aptitude. But I think, on the other side of things, just because you don't have that really high LSAT, I think those applicants are going to have a better chance than ever. So that's my biggest point of optimism I think. I shouldn’t have clapped there, but… that's my biggest point of optimism.

Mike: So in a similar vein, I think that “right angle of death”—if you want to explain it you can—but the right angle of death, my biggest point of optimism is there's no need for schools to have those anymore.

Anna: Yeah. Do you want me to explain the right angle of death?

Mike: Yeah, people might not know what I'm talking about.

Anna: Sure. So if you're looking at a scatterplot of applicants to a certain law school by their undergraduate GPA and by their LSAT, the right angle of death is this idea that if you are below numbers, let's say their medians—it's not always exactly the medians—but if you're below both medians on that scatterplot, if you are past that right angle of below the LSAT median and also below the GPA median, then you are just not getting in. There are schools where it's just 99.5% of people below both medians have no chance of getting in versus everybody above has a pretty good chance.

Mike: So my biggest concerns are twofold. You hit on one of them, but I will touch on it. But one is what's going to happen. I am a strong believer in the more diverse perspectives you have at law schools, in society, at our firm—we’ve made a really conscious effort to always hire people who add a voice different from the previous person we hired—and a homogenous learning environment versus a heterogeneous learning environment is a totally different experience. And I don't want to live in a society where you have one voice dictating the rule of law.

Anna: Yeah, that's what I was going to say, it's even more important in law school, I feel, because these are the future lawmakers and judges and attorneys.

Mike: It is amazing to me, Anna, the people we interact with on social media, the people we interact with on Reddit, the people who are listening to this podcast. I just watched that Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer.

Anna: Oh man, you just watched Making a Murderer, that's so interesting. That was like a big phenomenon several years ago.

Mike: The people listening to this are going to be trying cases for people's lives, getting people exonerated who have been in jail for 18 years for false accusations, running Department of State for the United States, presidents of universities, you name it. People listening to this right now are going to be making incredibly important decisions for our society as a whole. And I’m not saying I’m right, but my estimation is the more diverse people you have in that mix of important decision-making, the better off our society is.

So one concern would be that we don't have as much diverse thought in law schools. I think law schools are working really hard to make sure that the classroom environment still is very much mindful of diverse perspectives and thinking, and we'll see, to be determined. We'll know a lot more after this cycle about how the admission sort of shakes out this cycle after the SCOTUS decision.

And then my other concern is exactly what you hit on. This is not even anecdotal, it's almost like I want to let you research paper on this. When applicants cheer each other on—or, as you know, I was embedded in three different law schools in many different positions, running many different departments—when law school students cheer each other on, people suffer less mentally, and they do better performance-wise. It's hand-in-hand. When your mental health is sharp, your performance is also sharp. It’s a win-win. And I've seen the exact opposite, I've seen law schools with, like, a terror mindset, “I must beat the person next to me.” And I've seen cycles of mindsets of people getting incredibly argumentative online, strategically so, just to mess with the other applicants. And my concern is that it is going to be such a slow cycle that if people get really wound up, it's going to hurt the collective whole of the applicant pool.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast is I know it's going to be a slow cycle, and maybe knowing that, if you're an applicant listening to this, helps with the wait. There's that podcast with Dr. Guy Winch we have that we should link on how to handle waiting.

Anna: Yeah, we should certainly link that one. Although people at this point in the cycle aren't going to want to listen to it because they're not waiting yet.

Mike: Yeah, but later on—I mean, he has three TED talks with over 27 million views.

Anna: Oh, he has amazing insights and advice I think for anybody at any point in their life, much less their admission cycle.

Mike: So I'm optimistic that later in this cycle, there's going to be a lot of happy people. And if there's one maybe takeaway from this—“I can only go to one law school. I'm probably going to get admitted to multiple law schools. Let me put my best foot forward and understand this is going slow and there's going to be good news coming.” But the good news coming, I'm not kidding, it's going to seem like on Reddit or whatever because one or two or three or four people are posting the early good news. But the real waves of good news are coming January, February, March, April, May, June, July. I kid you not. It's going to be extended that far. Would you agree?

Anna: Oh, yeah, certainly. Even now, there are always really late admits. I think I was just seeing a couple of posts from people who had just been admitted off of the waitlist, and we're like fully in—orientations are starting. We're recording this August 22nd. But yeah, I think that in general, probably more applicants are going to be admitted later than in prior years.

Mike: So I'll do the TL;DR—applications slightly up. Maybe a more normalized LSAT score curve, which is good news I think. An incredibly slow cycle. The best cycle ever to apply to a number of stretches if you can, because I think some schools are going to be much more focused on the holistic perspective of the applicant versus numbers, particularly late in the cycle. Did I miss anything with my summary?

Anna: I think the other thing that we didn't touch on necessarily as much, but you did speak to—and I think that we probably didn't emphasize this because we did do a recent long podcast about this, and we'll also link that—but I think the SCOTUS decision, on top of causing schools to change their applications and all of the secondary impacts of that, really remains to be seen. What is going to happen there in terms of diverse applicants applying to law school? And that is certainly a point of concern that I share. So I would absolutely encourage diverse applicants to apply this year—more than ever as you were just saying—apply broadly, apply to those reaches. Absolutely.

Mike: So I think we're sort of at the endpoint. I mean, again, I could go forever. Maybe our listeners are like, “if Spivey says the word ‘slow’ one more time we’re going to get off the computer screen.”

Anna: It's funny, because you have said similar things about the cycle being slow each of the last few years, and each year there have been very good reasons for it, and each year it has turned out to be correct. So I think you might be a little bit like a broken record, but it's true.

Mike: And this will be the slowest on record. So we’ll end on that note. Thank you for listening, everyone. If you like this, we're going to keep doing more. So subscribe to our channel or however you do it. And thank you, Anna, for the time today.

Anna: Thanks, Mike. Thanks, everybody.

Mike: Bye, everyone.