Revenue boost, rankings ploy or reflection of the changing legal marketplace?
Ever since the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law began accepting GRE scores in lieu of the LSAT in 2016, the list of law schools that consider applicants who submit only Graduate Record Exam results is growing.
Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame are among the nearly 50 law schools that have followed Arizona. These institutions are not requiring potential students to take the GRE but will allow applicants to include their score either from that exam or the mainstay Law School Admissions Test.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law is taking a closer look at the GRE, according to dean Austen Parrish. The Bloomington school has convened a faculty committee to review the graduate entrance exam and make a recommendation on whether to accept it.
Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law has enrolled a limited number of students who presented only GRE scores. The school has had some internal conversations about the admissions tests, according to dean Andrew Klein, but it has not taken the steps to put that test on equal footing with the LSAT in its admissions process.
“If the (GRE) is a good predictor (of law school success), I’m open to it,” Klein said. “I think if it would help recruit people, I’m open to that.”
So was the American Bar Association.
In 2018, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar proposed eliminating the requirement that law school applicants include a standardized admissions test score as part of their application. The association expected exams to remain part of the admissions process, but law schools would have greater latitude in accepting other tests. This was intended to attract more students with diverse backgrounds to study for a J.D.
However, opposition forced the ABA to withdraw the proposal before the House of Delegates voted. The standard remains that law schools accepting the GRE or another test must demonstrate the alternative is “valid and reliable” in assessing an applicant’s ability to complete a J.D. degree.
Despite well-established reputable institutions taking the GRE score, the reaction in legal education has been mixed. Some are skeptical the exam will overtake the LSAT, while others are suspicious of the motives behind the embrace of the alternative test.
Vikram Savkar, vice president and general manager of international and higher education markets for Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., expects the acceptance of the GRE to grow but not replace the LSAT. So far it has proven to be a good predictor of law school success, and it can possibly help J.D. programs connect with nontraditional students, Savkar said.
The bigger shift in legal education, Savkar said, is what law schools are doing once the students arrive. Rather than a sink-or-swim approach, law schools are now recognizing they have an obligation to provide more resources and support to the incoming classes. Because first-year performance is the best predictor of how students will do in the classroom and on the bar exam, schools are investing to better position 1Ls for the future.
Klein and Parrish do not believe the growing acceptance of the GRE or the ability to direct-admit students from their home campuses without any entrance exam will bring fundamental change. They both characterized the allowances as nibbling at the margins.
Notre Dame Law School dean G. Marcus Cole, who started his tenure in South Bend last month, was unavailable for comment.
Still, Klein said, these steps can bring positive outcomes.
“I think we want to have innovation and do all we can to get talented people into the profession,” he said.
Preliminary data indicates law school is becoming more attractive. The number of law school applicants rose from 60,583 for the 2018-2019 year to 62,543 for 2019-2020, according to the Law School Admissions Council, which administers the LSAT.
The competition for the top applicants, Parrish noted, remains fierce, and both IU McKinney and IU Maurer are innovating to enroll them.
Currently, the Bloomington school is providing another incentive to outstanding applicants by expanding a program that guarantees summer associate positions after they complete their first year. Select scholarship recipients are assured of a paid summer job through the Law Scholars Partnership Program at the time they are admitted to IU Maurer.
Key to the program are the partnerships the law school is forming with entities such as law firms, legal departments and courts in different places around the country. Parrish said the organizations get talented summer associates and the law students get relief from having to interrupt their studies to search for a summer job.
“This is just a way for us to compete for the top students,” Parrish said. “It provides them with another reason to come here.”
Meanwhile, IU McKinney is working to grow law students in its backyard.
The Indianapolis school is part of the Bachelor of Law in Liberal Arts/Doctor of Jurisprudence program, commonly referred to as a 3 + 3 program. The initiative enables selected IUPUI students to complete their bachelor’s and J.D. degrees in six years rather than seven. At present, four sophomores are enrolled in the initiative, which will allow them to count their first year of law school as their fourth year of their undergraduate studies.
As Klein pointed out, the students will not only get to start their legal careers sooner, they will also save money by not having to pay another year of tuition.
Rankings and revolution
Concord Law School, the online legal education institution at Purdue University Global, uses its own admissions test rather than accepting either the LSAT or GRE. The test, according to Dean Martin Pritikin, measures reading comprehension and analytical acuity as the LSAT does, but is better suited for Concord applicants who, as mid-career adults, need the convenience of a free, online admissions exam.
Although the GRE is offered more conveniently throughout the year than the LSAT, Pritikin does not have confidence in the test. The LSAT, unlike the GRE, the Concord Law School dean said, is especially geared toward measuring the skills lawyers need.
As for why the GRE is gaining popularity, Pritikin admitted he has a cynical view. He speculated law schools are accepting the GRE in an attempt to “game the system.” The schools can enroll weaker GRE students, fill the classrooms and get the tuition dollars without endangering their U.S. News & World Report rankings.
However, IU Maurer professor William Henderson offered a different perspective in a March 2017 article, published by Law.com, about Harvard’s acceptance of the GRE.
Henderson pointed to changes in the legal profession, namely the market push to increase lawyer productivity to counter the costs of traditional legal services, as driving the need for lawyers with quantitative reasoning skills. The GRE, Henderson wrote, could help law schools identify individuals who have high quantitative abilities.
The LSAT measures only verbal reasoning ability, Henderson wrote. “If you are a prospective employer trying to build an organization in the age of Big Data, however, this single measure is likely to be inadequate.
“Instead, you want a workforce that is equally able in quantitative reasoning,” Henderson said. “For Harvard Law School, that is a very compelling reason to start using the GRE, as the GRE reports separate scores for verbal and quantitative ability … .”•