Some of us were contacted by email in early February and told that we were being considered for merit aid. We were asked to reply by 2/4 and give admissions an idea of "what level of funding" would make a difference in our decision. Over the last two days, some of this group got emails saying we are "finalists" for merit aid and have to submit a 150 [word] essay by this Friday morning. Others from the initial email group just got a response saying they were not being offered merit aid at this time.
The "us" in the first sentence refers to admitted applicants, although it's easy enough to project that the next step in this increasingly baroque process will be for law schools to start asking at least some applicants to make their first request for a tuition discount even before an admissions decision is made. (This would be ideal for yield protection purposes, and no doubt some legal academic glibertarian is already busy at work on an article explaining why such a practice would be Pareto optimal).
What GULC is doing here is Game Theory 101: Force the other party in the negotiation make the first offer. A lot of applicants in the TLS thread are understandably upset by this whole process, which is making the putatively "holistic" admissions decision feel more like visiting a car dealership than applying to an Elite National Law School.
The request for a 150-word [!] "essay" is a particularly clever touch, as it's obviously a stalling tactic to buy more time for the admissions committee before they cut real as opposed to nominal tuition more than they absolutely have to. Perhaps after tomorrow's deadline they'll ask a subgroup of this subgroup of what was already a subgroup of admitted applicants to submit a haiku regarding Why Georgetown? (Update: A commenter notes that the essay is supposed to be about the applicant's "most interesting mistake," which under the circumstances strikes me as a rather sinister topic).
Or, if GULC really wants to ask people what they need to do to put them in a law school seat today, they could send applicants Philip Schrag's recent essay explaining to prospective law students that they're not going to actually have to pay the money they borrow back. (An explanation of the new Pay As You [Hopefully] Earn plan is already featured prominently on the school's web site. GULC's calculator of the total cost of attendance for the school projects total debt at repayment of $273,000 for 2012 matriculants who are paying sticker).