Although the recent approval by the American Bar Association to eliminate the requirement that law schools use the LSAT as part of their admissions process could upend a 70-year tradition, the potential shift away from the test is not expected to bring great change to legal education.
The Council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved a pair of proposals at its May 11 meeting that revamped its law school admissions standards. While the mandate for the LSAT or any other standardized test would be erased, law schools would still be under pressure to require applicants to take an admissions test. That’s because the second proposal cautions that schools risk being found noncompliant with accreditation standards if they forego a test altogether.
Now, the proposals are set to be considered by the ABA House of Delegates, possibly as soon as the 2018 ABA annual meeting in August. The House could either approve the proposals or send them back to the council.
Retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard described the proposals as making a “modest” change and does not anticipate they would make much of a difference. Shepard has worked closely with the ABA on legal education matters and chaired the association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.
He pointed out the current standards compel law schools only to require an admissions test, but do not spell out how, or if, the test results should be considered when reviewing applications. Even so, the LSAT results provide valuable information about which applicants are the best qualified to the schools, as well as to the individuals who are thinking about becoming a lawyer.
“The test is almost as much benefit for students as for the admission committees,” Shepard said.
Under the Council’s proposal, Standard 503 – which requires law schools to use an admissions test – would be crossed out. In turn, Standard 501 would be revised so that a “valid and reliable admissions test” would no longer be a requirement but would still be one of the factors considered when determining whether a law school is admitting students who are capable of completing their legal studies and passing the bar exam.
The ABA believes that Standard 501 makes a sufficiently strong statement that law schools must only admit qualified students and that a separate requirement for an admissions test is unnecessary.
Already, a small but growing number law schools, like the University of Arizona, Harvard and Georgetown, allow potential students to take the GRE and submit those scores instead of the LSAT. The Graduate Record Examination is part of the admissions process for many graduate and business schools.
Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said the proposal could speed up the adoption of the GRE. This would give law school applicants more choices but still not usher in sweeping change.
“The bottom line is that applicants will still almost certainly have to take an admissions test and that test will still likely be the LSAT but with the GRE gaining ground,” Thomas said in a statement. “Irrespective of which test or tests candidates prepare for, it will always be important to put together as compelling as application as possible, inclusive of a high admissions test score.”
Shepard noted the LSAT has been specifically designed for the sole purpose of measuring an aptitude for legal studies. Although the LSAT’s ability to predict how successful a student will be during and after law school is limited, he is a “little skeptical” the GRE would be as good of a predicter.
Supporters of the proposal said the changes to the admissions standards would allow law schools to be innovative in looking for other predictors of success. However, Shepard believes a main impetus is to thwart U.S. New and World Report’s annual law school rankings.
The magazine uses median LSAT and GRE scores as part of its methodology to choose the best law schools in the United States.
“I think this change will not abate the impulse to somehow resist U.S. News and World Report,” Shepard said, noting this change is part of the past “20 years of reaction against the rankings.”