By Molly Andrews
When thinking about starting a career in the legal profession, one of the first steps is attending law school. To do so, one must complete the daunting Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Potential candidates spend months studying the exam in hopes of scoring high so they can be admitted to the school of their choosing.
The LSAT is known to be daunting, but is it this way for a reason? Should it really be one of the deciding factors for law school admissions?
According to the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the answer is no. On November 18, the council voted to revise the requirement for a “valid and reliable” test upon admission.
With the LSAT being such a comprehensive test, its main mission is to predict a law student’s first year grades, which in turn will help predict the success of a first-year student. However, in recent years, the LSAT has been on the forefront of debate. Rather than being seen as a successful tool for gauging the future success of a student’s legal career, it has received the reputation of being the gatekeeper for law school admissions.
The ABA Council hopes this revision will bring in a more diverse student body. The council recognizes that for some students, tests don’t accurately portray their skills and potential, which is why this revision would lead to more exploration of the limitations of testing. Bill Adams, Managing Director of the ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, spoke to the idea of the revision and what it means for law school admissions.
“It [the revision] will give schools the opportunity to identify applicants for whom standardized tests don’t accurately assess their skills and predict success in law school and on bar exams,” Adams says. “The testing organizations do not assert that the tests are perfect predictors for everyone, and some schools have programs which they assert do accurately predict success. It is worth exploring the extent to which the tests might fail to accurately predict who can succeed and whether that disproportionately excludes persons from underrepresented groups.”
Adams, along with the Council, is aware that there are limitations that come with the predictability of success, especially in terms of the LSAT. He even mentioned with the evolution of the bar exam, such as the one being developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), those exams are assessing additional skills that are not being measured by the LSAT or GRE, which limits the predictive value of the tests.
It is important to note that this revision it not trying to get law schools to stop using standardized tests as part of the admissions process.
“The revised standard will further the Council’s goal to focus more on successful outcomes without being overly prescriptive about how schools achieve those outcomes,” Adams states. “It is not trying to get schools to stop using standardized tests as part of the admissions process. It will permit schools who can successfully identify students who can succeed by using policies that don’t require test scores to use those policies. It may be that schools admit a small percentage of their class with these alternatives.”
When looking at the future of law school admissions, it would allow schools to have the option to identify potential candidates whose test scores might not accurately predict their future success. However, many law schools are still uncertain how they might react with this revision.
In Kaplan’s 2022 law school admissions officers survey, there was a question about what law schools will do in response. Looking at the 82 ABA-approved law schools that were surveyed, 37 schools are unsure of what they are going to do, while 30 said they would be very likely to continue requiring an entry exam. Only two schools are unlikely to continue requiring an exam for their applicants.
It becomes clear with these results that only a few schools will drop the testing requirement altogether.
UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law Dean Megan Carpenter, feels that the revision would be a misstep.
“I think it is a huge mistake if the ABA House of Delegates votes in favor of this change – and if the Council enacts it. It is an amendment that is well-intentioned but poorly constructed,” Carpenter says. “It will make admissions processes more susceptible to implicit bias, and tax the resources of admissions departments across legal education.”
Carpenter believes that the LSAT is the single most reliable predictor of success in law school and that it is a useful tool for admission. With UNH using the LSAT for admissions, it helps the school feel confident with their choices in students and helps ensure student success. She voices that it is a professional obligation to admit students who are going to be successful and removing the standardized testing requirement will make this difficult.
“For both applicants and the legal profession as a whole, I hope that schools will continue to use the LSAT as one tool in a holistic admissions toolkit. It’s facility as an indicator of success in law school is unparalleled,” says Carpenter.
UNH has no plans to remove the requirement to take a standardized test for admission.
This revision is now being moved to the ABA’s House of Delegates, who will vote in February to decide the fate of standardized testing requirements. If the revision is approved, it will not take affect until 2025, giving law schools time to decide how they will go forward with their admissions process.