Unsinkable? The College Admissions Scam was the Tip of the Iceberg
Kerri Lynn Stone, Professor of Law, Florida International University
The recent college admissions scandal that rocked Hollywood (and U.S.C., among others) and dominated the headlines has all the makings of a splashy, made-for-TV movie. But was it the tip of an enormous iceberg that has permeated legal education and practice, creating hierarchies that privilege not only the well-to-do, but the ruthless and the unscrupulous? Just how widespread is ambition that swallows morality and corruption, and the complacency that enables it all? How is the academic climate and the legal profession impacted by this silent, all-but-invisible hierarchy? Since law school attendance, possibly even more than grades or courses taken, is often used in the profession and by the public for social sorting, these effects go way beyond graduation.
While it is difficult to capture, with any real precision, the true frequency and the depth of dishonesty in the admissions process (although one could imagine creating a random sample of admitted students and having every material fact on their applications verified in an attempt to quantify how widespread this embellishment may be), it is possible to thoughtfully examine the current procedure for applying to law school, as well as what is known about how schools arrive at determinations as to who will fill the seats in their classes. It is possible to identify opportunities for those who have some combination of more resources and less honesty to exploit holes in the system where no checks or follow-up exists. And it is possible to posit some proposals for shoring up some loopholes, creating more accountability, and deterring acts of dishonesty that could cost an honest student his or her seat in a law school class—or even in the profession.
This piece will attempt to do all of the above, addressing opportunities for corruption in the law school application and admissions process, academic and professional dishonesty, and social promotion throughout the law school application process, law school itself, and bar admission. It will discuss the ways in which these opportunities have been enabled to take root, and it will attempt to make some recommendations to the Law School Admissions Council (“LSAC”) administrators, law schools, and state bars to grapple with what might be an enormous, unseen problem.