May 16, 2009  ·  Lessig

To get into law school, most require you take the LSAT. That test is administered by LSAC, a nonprofit corporation established to administer the tests.

But to get copies of the old tests to prepare for the exam, a student has got to purchase the tests through a test prep company — a company that sells test preparation courses.

According to Steve Schwartz of the LSAT Blog, LSAC receives $194 for each student who receives a full set of the exams. As Schwartz puts it, “[w]hen LSAC has prep companies do the printing, that $194 is pure profit, baby.” LSAC simply provides the PDFs.

This isn’t an ordinary topic in this space. But then again, teaching law students is my profession. And it would seem a nonprofit would be keen to find a better way to make access easier. As Schwartz suggests, the exams should be free, or at least, following iTunes, $.99. Read about it here.

  • Greg

    Students don’t need to purchase past exams through a test-prep company. LSAC offers books of 10 exams for about $20 (although you can find them for cheaper). They also provide one or two free exams on their website. For students who qualify for low-income assistance, as I did, they provide you with a free study book. Their setup certainly isn’t perfect, but my total expenses on taking the LSAT _and_ applying to law schools were under $100 with the low-income program. In fact, if I recall correctly, Stanford was one of the few schools that did not waive the application fee for students in LSAC’s low-income program, creating a significant burden for such student applying to Stanford.

  • http://www.cali.org John Mayer

    In the spirit of remix, if the questions from past LSATs were made electronically available, I have no doubt that some organizations would step up to create tutorials and other learning aids (iPhone apps, etc.) for general distribution.

  • Rick

    Hmmmmmm…… I feel a torrent coming on…. :)

  • http://www.myprivatespace.org RainbowW

    the other monopoly in the law is, of course, law schools themselves. it is no longer legal in any state that i’m aware of to read law (i.e., be individually trained by a lawyer) to qualify to sit for the bar exam. you must get a JD from an accredited law school.

    this means that if you want to become a lawyer, but can’t afford to go to law school (whether for the tuition or the time-off-work factor — do you know how many night law schools there are? damn few!), you’re screwed.

    i recall stories indicating that texas wesleyan school of law in fort worth, texas, had to threaten to sue multiple organizations for its accreditation, because they wanted to offer night classes. they are the only night school in the entire state.

  • Harry Porterfield

    It’s the same way with medical schools and the MCAT.

    I’m not sure how it works with the bar exam, but with the medical boards we have no choice but to continue to support the monopoly. What is interesting though, is a few years ago “they” decided to take an exam which was originially intended to test for english fluency and require it of all students. It’s called USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills. The people who give the test are the ones who mandated the test and are the ones who make money off the test.

    “The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) has opposed the test since 1999. In 2002, the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution to oppose the examination “by any means, including possible legal action.” The Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has also expressed reservations about the cost of the test. AMSA and the Medical Student Section of the AMA, as well as the AMA as a whole, have put forth several arguments in opposition to the examination. One of the most important has to do with the expense involved. The fee for the examination will be $975, which does not include the travel and lodging costs for students, most of whom will have to travel in order to reach one of the five testing sites (located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia). This cost is a new addition to the large debt load carried by 80 percent of medical students — a debt that currently averages about $104,000 and is increasing steeply.” MA Papadakis, “The Step 2 clinical-skills examination” NEJM 2004

    We are of course given a choice to take the test or not, it’s just that if we do not, we don’t get licensed.

  • http://robert.accettura.com Robert Accettura

    Very true. This is true for most of these tests.

    Another bogus borderline monopoly is school book stores. Schools often encourage professors to bundle those packets with a chapter or two from another book… so the only way to get all the material is via the school book store (or authorized store in some schools that use B&N for example). Obviously a bit more expensive than shopping around online.

    What’s even more ridiculous is how schools “buy back” books at a tiny fraction of the price then resell at a large margin. While they often promote “up to 50% back” it’s often

    It always seemed like a real ripoff selling books back… but the alternative was trying to peddle off a book on your own and hope to find someone who needs THAT book and THAT revision… or just keep that calculus book you’ll never look at again.

  • http://rubegoldbergsdevice.blogspot.com Mike

    Test prep is probably also available at your local library. When I was preparing for the LSAT a few years ago, I was able to check out the various Kaplan volumes from the last few years. The LSAT format hasn’t changed all that much as logic games and reading comprehension exercises don’t require updating for current events.

    Of course, LSAC provides other services, specifically centralizing transcripts and recommendations making that aspect of the application process so much easier. Maybe not $194 easier, but a worthy service nonetheless.

  • George

    Let’s see if I understand this:

    Stanford law school charges $127,260 for a law degree, which requires 86 credits of course work. That is, $1480 per credit. You teach, “Intellectual Property: Fair Use in Film”, which is a 3 unit (credit) course or $4440.00 per student. Say fifteen students take the course. That amounts to $66,600. Not bad for three months work. Of course, this is only tuition never mind all the other nickel-and-diming that occurs. I should call it Benjamin-ing, but I digress.

    Now I don’t begrudge a man or school a living, and I understand that the $66k is not going directly into Lessig’s pocket. However, you are a representative of SLS and of legal academia. Thus, the perception that you are offended by the reality of “LSAC receiving $194 for each student who receives a full set of the exams” while the current reality of that same student having to pay $4440.00 to see you teach in acquiring the legally mandated credential to be an attorney is…to be diplomatic…the height of absurdist comedy.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    “LSAC receiving $194 for each student who receives a full set of the exams” while the current reality of that same student having to pay $4440.00 to see you teach in acquiring the legally mandated credential to be an attorney is”

    Except for a few for-profit schools, Stanford and virtually all other schools lose money on every student. It’s hard to grasp after paying $100,000+ for tuition, but the entire reason schools need endowments, donations or state support is that student tuition only covers a part of the expense. Granted Lessig’s “research” likely does not require expensive scientific equipment, but it likely costs $10,000 per course when all expenses (building, small teaching load so he can pontificate online..)

    Lessig’s badly worded argument, I think, is that it’s unfair to poor students who can’t afford standardized test prep. (This is of course assuming that we, as a society need to devote more resources (smarter people) to lawyers (although Lessig is a good example of law being a good place for people who can argue one side without understanding either side))

  • The Bagman

    I’m not sure why, but whenever Steve Baba posts, it makes me think of this song by the Rapture called “No Sex for Ben.”

    It’s easy enough to get obtain copies of old LSAT exams by either purchasing the books that each contain ten exams or by just borrowing those books from the library. If it would be possible for the LSAC to make the exams available more cheaply, they should. I have no idea how well the LSAC is doing financially, and if they’re making money hand over fist, they should reduce the burden on students. Having said that, the LSAT is already cheaper than the GMAT and MCAT even though the LSAT is the only one of the three that hasn’t been computerized. And the MCAT people barely ever release exams, all the better to save on the cost of actually writing new questions.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    If one is the typical lawyer/law student just trying to get into the local state school, then the one or two free sample tests and a $20 book of ten is likely more than one needs. If one is trying to get into Stanford or Harvard one will likely burn through many more tests studying, and the people who can afford the extra tests and courses will have an advantage. Likewise, test-challenged but motivated students trying to get into any law school could also use the extra tests.

    In addition to being unfair to the (relatively) poor, it does strike me as being an economically inefficient misallocation of human resources that only a lawyer-designed system would produce.

  • Jardinero1

    I am not sure why Prof Lessig has an issue with non-profits charging as much as the market will bear and making mega profits. Being a non-profit is not the same thing as taking a vow of poverty or a vow of charity; even if some non-profits clam to be charitable. Non-profit status is nothing more than a tool for avoiding taxation. It’s a euphemism designed to keep the public mollified in face of the fact that some legal persons make obscene amounts of money and pay no taxes. It is not unlike calling “state funding” of an activity by some other euphemism like “citizen funding”

    Is the professor’s problem with profits, taxation or the fact that he was fooled by the euphemism?

  • http://www.highprogrammer.com/alan/ Alan De Smet

    To the people pointing out that you can buy the books of ten tests, the article’s author is perfectly aware of that. His complaints are many, but a few highlights are: Several tests are simply unavailable for direct purchase. The newest 10-test book (39-48) should have been out years ago, isn’t, and they have no plans to publish is, instead only offering those tests for $8 a test instead of the $2 a test the books provide.

    @ Jardinero1: Clever troll. I must acknowledge your subtlety. You come across as so very sincere.

  • The Bagman

    My point is not that everything the LSAC does is perfect. My point is that you can get more than adequate prep just with the free downloads and the 30 tests in the compilation books, which available for free (from libraries) or cheap ($2/test retail).

    It would be great if the LSAC made their stuff available more cheaply, and if they are turning obscene profits or paying their executives obscene salaries, then that’s certainly something worth criticizing. Otherwise, I see the argument in principle, but I don’t really see a practical issue. Aren’t there way more exams/questions available for free or cheap for the LSAT than any other major standardized test?

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    “To the people pointing out that you can buy the books of ten tests….”

    The fault is clearly with the writer, Lessig, in this case for being unclear, likely to intentionally overstate his case.

    It’s too bad bloggers and lawyers can’t write as clear as say a typical journalism major like Sarah Palin.

  • C.T.

    “Except for a few for-profit schools, Stanford and virtually all other schools lose money on every student.”

    This couldn’t be more wrong as far as law schools are concerned. Law schools are veritable cash-cows for their respective institutions.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    The perception that law schools are “cash cows” that bring in big money for universities because they have much lower overhead than other professional schools is a myth, he said.

    Law schools need at least $50 million to get started, he said, and have much higher operating costs — including career services staffers and admissions teams — than in the past. Moreover, public law schools, which can charge lower tuition, require states to kick in the shortfall, he noted.
    http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202421786165&slreturn=1

    Law School Will Cut Staff To Trim Budget
    Acting Dean says layoffs are inevitable due to drop in endowment payout
    Published On Tuesday, May 05, 2009 11:43 PM

    By ELIAS J GROLL
    Crimson Staff Writer

    Harvard Law School will lay off staff members in response to budgetary constraints imposed by University administrators, acting Dean Howell E. Jackson said Monday.

    The likely layoffs come amidst continued estimates of a 30 percent decline in endowment value by year’s end and a corresponding reduction in the endowment payout—a major source of funding for the University’s different schools that accounts for 40 percent of the Law School’s annual revenue.

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=528124

  • http://plainwhitebox.blogspot.com/ Scott

    To Steve Baba:

    How many Law Schools have you been to? I’ve been to a few and they are all POSH! I mean seriously fancy, wood paneled walls, marble floors, tall ceilings, statues and other fancy decorations. At my alma mater the law school was a palace, while I crossed my fingers every time I used the elevator in the physics department, as a disabled wheelchair user getting stuck in the rickety old rat trap would not be fun, trust me I’de use the stairs if i had a choice.

    Bottom line, the only reason it costs 50 Million to start a law school is the lawyers want it to. The all want to make piles of money. I’m sorry buy most lawyers are the biggest hypocrites on the planet, charging $350-$500 an hour just to return your email, with a 10 min minimum when it took one minuet at the longest to write and send the two sentence response to a simple question. They profit from the fiction they are some how worth the huge sums they charge and all work in collusion to fix the prices at levels no other profession can get away with, may of whom have as much if not more education and often actually produce something of lasting value to society. There is no question that resolving disputes is important, but is it really more important that actually providing a positive good or service? It is really just a drain on society.

    A law school could be quite cheep if setup that way, they need no lab equipment, or consumable materials to use in experiments, if the book makers did not introduce a new version of each book ever year or two the same books could last for decades, especially in light of the fact that most “revisions” just involve changing the order of the practice problems in the ends of the chapters. Education is being made expensive to exclude those that can’t pay and extort as much as possible from those who can. This also leaves many students with huge student loans to pay down, so they must charge unfair rates to pay of the loans that go to making the school like a palace. What a waste. So please all you lawyers out the talk a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself honestly is what you do fair and honest? The face looking back may answer NO!

  • http://twoblacktires.blogspot.com/ Huck Finne

    Go take a look at 740 15th St NW in Washington. It’s the ABA building, and it stands as a clear testament to the monumental profits the accrue to cartels. Of course the ABA would argue that they’re providing standards, but then why does every state bar association besides California prevent graduates of California’s non-ABA accredited law schools from sitting the bar exam. Why not let the results of the bar exam – comparisons are conveniently unavailable – speak for themselves? Further, those school are able to offer a competitive legal education at a fraction of the price of ABA accredited schools.

  • http://12.com Topher

    In California you can sit for the bar exam and then practice as a lawyer without having attended law school so all you cheeps out there can see how well you fare with that exam and then attempting to find a job that pays 100,000 PER YEAR when you’re not willing to take out loans for a three year total of 125,000