OrinKerr has an interesting post summarizing an article on the rise of conservative politics at Harvard Law School, and the contributions of the Federalist Society. Kerr writes:
I went to Harvard during Bob Clark’s deanship, and I think it’s fair to say that (at least to the students) he didn’t seem to be a forceful agent of change. However, in a particularly intriguing passage, Hicks determines that Clark reshaped the admissions criteria somewhat so that ended preferences for those who “had taken time off, engaged in public works, or participated in other significant outside activities or experiences.” According to Duncan Kennedy, those policies had “contributed to the liberal-radical strength” during James Vorenberg’s tenure as Dean. The absence of those policies, and increased focus on LSAT scores and GPAs, apparently led to more conservative students being admitted. (See pages 701-02) If the admissions policies really did change that much, I think this is a notable explanation. Still, I would want to know more before making a conclusion one way or the other.
I also went to HLS under Dean Clark. (Kagan became dean the year that I graduated.) I do think that there are two other things that Clark did. First, he seems to have stopped the hiring momentum of the CLS movement. By the time that I arrived, they were no longer radicals poised to storm the gates. Rather, they seemed like rather sad and bitter failed revolutionaries who were ghettoized in HLS's somewhat-less-than-stellar jurisprudence area while the law and economics jocks hired by Clark grabbed the lime light.
My second bit of Clark information is more specific. Under Dean Clark, HLS made the decision not to discount the grades of Brigham Young University. The argument was that many intelligent students go to BYU for religious reasons, and hence the student body is more competitive than one would otherwise think given the university's overall profile. Prior to this move, any BYU GPA was discounted because getting a 4.0 at lowly BYU wasn't nearly as impressive as getting a 4.0 at chronically grade inflated Harvard. Or so the argument went. If -- as I suspect is the case -- the decision not to discount BYU GPA's extended to other religious universities, then one would expect a larger crop of religiously conservative students. Of course, under the old rules Mormons from BYU might still have benefited due the two years of missionary service that many Mormons perform, although, I would not be surprised if missionary work was not counted under the Vorenberg formula.
Of course all of this is nothing more than idle speculation. I fully agree with Orin that without more actual data it is really hard to say what does or does not matter.