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April 30, 2012

LSAT Requirement May Be Eliminated

LSAT Blog LSAT Requirement May Be Eliminated
The ABA's Standards Review Committee has voted, once again, to consider dropping the "LSAT requirement" for admission to law school.

In this post, I address 3 questions:

1. What is the LSAT requirement?
2. Why would the committee consider dropping it?
3. How would this affect law school admissions?

1. What is the LSAT requirement?

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar adopted a set of standards called "Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools."

Within that set of standards, Standard 503 states (PDF):
A law school shall require each applicant for admission as a first year J.D. student to take a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s educational program. In making admissions decisions, a law school shall use the test results in a manner that is consistent with the current guidelines regarding proper use of the test results provided by the agency that developed the test. 
Interpretation 503-1 
A law school that uses an admission test other than the Law School Admission Test sponsored by the Law School Admission Council shall establish that such other test is a valid and reliable test to assist the school in assessing an applicant’s capability to satisfactorily complete the school’s educational program.

Interpretation 503-2 
This Standard does not prescribe the particular weight that a law school should give to an applicant’s admission test score in deciding whether to admit or deny admission to the applicant.
Interpretation 503-3 
A pre-admission program of coursework taught by members of the law school’s fulltime faculty and culminating in an examination or examinations, offered to some or all applicants prior to a decision to admit to the J.D. program, also may be useful in assessing the capability of an applicant to satisfactorily complete the school’s educational program, to be admitted to the bar, and to become a competent professional. 
Interpretation 503-4 
The “Cautionary Policies Concerning LSAT Scores and Related Services” published by the Law School Admission Council is an example of the testing agency guidelines referred to in Standard 503. [See Appendix 2]

Nowhere does it mention the LSAT in particular. However, it's far easier for law schools to use the LSAT than some other test, so most simply opt to use it.

The ABA's Standards Review Committee recently met and proposed a few modifications to Standard 503, one of which being to eliminate it altogether (PDF p3-4). The other is to reduce Standard 503 to (PDF p3):
A law school shall require each applicant for admission as a first year J.D. student to take a valid and reliable admission test. 
Interpretation 503-1 1 
This Standard does not prescribe the weight that a law school should give to an applicant’s admission test score in deciding whether to admit the applicant.  

Basically, applicants' scores on this "valid and reliable admission test" could be irrelevant to admission. It doesn't even have to assess an applicant's ability in law school. And what does "valid" really mean, anyway?


2. Why would the ABA committee consider dropping the LSAT requirement?

Here's the key part of the stated justification (PDF p4):
The decision to delete what, for shorthand purposes, will be termed the LSAT requirement, does not suggest, and indeed should not be taken to express a lack of confidence in that instrument or in the wisdom of using a fair and valid objective test as one key measure in winnowing a class of entering students from each school’s applicant pool. The LSAT can and does provide a fair measure of first-year law school performance and correlates well with the final law school grade-point average, rank in class, and performance on bar examinations.  It helps a law school identify promising performers.  It also helps schools avoid the admission of those who are not capable of satisfactorily completing the law school program. Given the enormous investment of resources that individuals make in securing a legal education, the LSAT offers would-be students some predictability when they make such an important investment.  In the future the LSAT probably will continue to be viewed by most law schools as an essential factor in the admissions equation since an LSAT score has consistent meaning across the applicant pool.  
The issue here is not the wisdom of employing the LSAT as a valuable tool in calculating admissions decisions; rather, it is whether, as a matter of judging institutional quality, law school accrediting authorities should require the use of a valid and reliable test.  It is our understanding that accreditation standards governing other professions are not so specific.  It is also true that such entrance tests are still used in the admission process in other professional schools because they provide helpful evidence as well as added efficiency in the admissions context. 

The committee seems to suggest that, although it considers the LSAT to be a great test, it might not require law schools to use it anymore simply because accreditation bodies for other professions (ABA counterparts) aren't so strict.

This seems a rather weak justification, given the LSAT's immense value.

It's useful in predicting law school performance - it's been found to have a .58 correlation coefficient with 1L grades. In comparison, undergraduate GPA has only a .44 correlation coefficient with 1L grades (PDF p13).

Why would you really want to remove the requirement that law schools use such a useful test?

The ABA Journal spoke with committee members on both sides of the issue:
"It ought to be up to the schools to decide who they want to admit, and based on what factors," says committee member David Yellen, dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Yellen also says it doesn't make sense to keep a requirement in the standards that is slowly being "chiseled away" through variances. 
But those who want to keep the requirement say the test scores offer useful consumer information. They also say that grades are a very unreliable indicator of a law student’s success. 
"I think this is absolutely fundamental to the quality of a legal education in America," says committee member James Hanks Jr., a partner with the Venable firm in Baltimore.

Even if we take Dean Yellen's arguments at face value, it still seems that bottom-tier law schools stand to benefit significantly from the elimination of the LSAT requirement.

3. How would this affect law school admissions?

How would U.S. News deal with schools that had no LSAT scores to submit when compiling its law school rankings? Or schools that accepted a significant percentage of students with no LSAT scores?

If they weren't "punished," schools could matriculate applicants with high GPAs who might have done horribly on the LSAT, while schools that continued to require it would essentially be punished for doing so, as they might not be able to admit enough applicants with equally high GPAs.

When the ABA previously considered dropping the LSAT requirement, Robert Morse (the man behind the U.S. News rankings) stated:

It's likely that a very large proportion of law students will continue to take and submit the LSAT, even if it's made optional at some schools. It is important to note that the LSAT has been proven to be the best and most reliable predictor of first year success at law school. With that in mind, U.S. News will continue to conduct the annual law school rankings, and the LSAT will remain a heavily weighted factor.

I emailed him for comment on Monday evening. If I hear back, I'll be sure to update this blog post with any additional thoughts he might want to share.

No one is requiring that Loyola (current U.S. News rank #67) or others choose their students based upon their LSAT scores. Schools that don't like the LSAT can apply for a variance as other schools have if they prefer to accept some students who haven't taken it.

Of course, if the LSAT were optional, reputable law schools would continue to require it for admission, as it serves useful purposes (and because the high LSAT scores of their admitted students confer legitimacy to the school).

However, some of the less-reputable schools (e.g. Cooley and others in the bottom tier) might choose to no longer require it. Such schools have nothing to lose when it comes to whatever punishment they might receive in the rankings.

Removing the LSAT requirement would allow these schools to admit applicants who are intimidated by the exam (and/or would have achieved LSAT scores that would have prevented admission to even these schools).

It's not much of a stretch to suspect that these students would be at increased risk of dropping out and failing the bar exam. A study by the Law School Admission Council found:
Both law school grade-point average (LGPA) and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score were the strongest predictors of bar examination passage for all groups studied. Other measurement variables, such as undergraduate grade-point average (UGPA) and selectivity of the undergraduate school, failed to make a practical additional contribution to a bar-passage prediction model that already included LGPA and LSAT scores.

While schools that didn't require the LSAT might be punished by U.S. News, their LSAT medians would likely improve. Applicants who avoided taking the LSAT would be those most likely to bomb it. (Perhaps those who overestimated their abilities, took it, and bombed might be viewed as pariahs by all but the worst of the worst schools.)

The ABA might take the brave step of marking LSAT-optional schools with an asterisk and fine print indicating that some students at the school did not submit an LSAT score. While Judge Schweitzer's "reasonable consumer" might take that to be a red flag, not all applicants are so discerning.

If this measure passed, and the LSAT became optional, it might be just the boost 4th-tier schools need to maintain their class sizes amid falling applicant numbers. Those who can't break 140 on the LSAT would get to go to law school, after all.

Photo by americanpsycho



27 comments:

  1. The LSAT has not always existed. I can imagine today's lawyers aren't that much better. They are probably worse because students don't study history or philosophy anymore. The LSAT just perpetuates the divide between people that can afford and cannot afford to enter the test prep cold war.

    The LSAT might indicate a person is really bright but it doesn't gauge an actual interest in law or commitment to helping people. It doesn't evaluate common sense or integrity either. It's fine to be rational and logical but at the end of the day you have to persuade people and have good character. Cold logic won't get the job done.

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    1. TOTALLY AGREE. Plus, while logic can be trained in some people, how do you train people to be more compassionate?

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    2. So true. Many of us know great attorneys. But too many attorneys elicit the question: "How did that person get into law school?" The answer is he may have been book smart, but not people smart or not street smart. In the end, law schools should admit intelligent people who want to serve others and can run a businesses economically so they don't feel the need to overcharge to stay in business. The LSAT may help predict who can pass the first year, but it can't predict the soft skills that mean the difference between which attorney most people would prefer to hire.

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  2. I wonder when this would be in effect, if at all. As a traditional splitter, I'm really counting on the LSAT to help wash out a mediocre GPA

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  3. Don't be so transparent in your professional insecurity. You can always learn to teach the SAT.

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    1. Sorry, that was rude. I respect your work. Keep it up.

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  4. "It's (LSAT scores are) useful in predicting law school performance - it's been found to have a .58 correlation coefficient with 1L grades. In comparison, undergraduate GPA has only a .44 correlation coefficient with 1L grades (PDF p13)."

    If this is the case, then eliminating or optionalizing GPA as one of the determinants of acceptance would make more sense [first].

    Sitting for hours preparing for this exam has me in much physical pain (I'm putting off back surgery) but any field worth investing time and money requires an exam to be taken beforehand.
    In a school where the LSAT is not a requirement for acceptance, I imagine I would have less of an intellectual experience in classrooms containing more incompetent classmates plus who in their right mind would want to go to or be a part of a money-hungry school anyway?
    Yea, I'm not a naturally great test-taker myself, so I know I should just practice more than others. But that's a personal situation. Looking at the bigger picture and not my own: Why do away with the LSAT to keep desperate schools open?? To help save the jobs of those who work in those schools while they take the money of poor students for years to come??? No way. No thanks!

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    1. you are "assuming" that you would NOT be in a class with 'intellectual' students. I have an MBA (3.9 GPA), work at a Fortune 500 and have negotiated a $110 million dollar contract, yet could not get a score above 151...does that make ME less intellectual to go to school with? *pssfft* Do not classify all the poor LSAT takers into one group....they are just as diverse as race.

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    2. Anonymous (7:18 PM), the fact that you have an MBA is meaningless in and of itself. Being familiar with the MBA course loads at some of the top-5 business schools I can tell you that MBA programs are far less rigorous than are those at top law schools and there is really no comparison. Someone who is already good at math can do very well whiling exerting little effort, which few law students at top schools could get away with doing.

      Also, a score of 151 is right around the median score for the LSAT. If you had attended law school I suspect you would have found it to be much, much more intellectually challenging than was business school for you.

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    3. Kurt, really? Do you really believe graduates of Top 5 MBA Schools would have a tough time keeping up at top law schools? If Bill Gates today at age 57 were to do poorly on the LSAT (ignore he dropped out of Harvard undergrad and I presume he does not have an MBA), then your logic would dicate Bill Gates is not smart enough to succeed at a top law school or probably any law school. Sadly, many admissions people would concur with your view. But I'd take an earnest Bill Gates with a poor LSAT over any 22-year-old with a 180 LSAT and a 4.0 G.P.A. His business success and billion-dollar worldwide charitable contributions trump any standardized test or decades-old GPA to determine if he's got what it takes to do well as a 1L. And I bet he(and many others with distinguished careers) would get or create a job right out of law school over the typical law school grad who came right out of undergrad school.

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  5. Standardized test have been proven to be an ineffective way of measuring a students potential and intellect. One can study for the test and do well and still fail out of law school. The reality of it is, we do not need more people taking test to show they can take the test, we need people who are committed to the field and are willing to put the work in and do it. Besides if you are willing to pay the amount of money any of these schools are asking to be a lawyer you obviously have some level of commitment to the field that should be supported and honored regardless on how one test measures your intellect.

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    1. The 4th tier law dean contingent seems to be out in force today. I think you missed the part about correlation to law school performance. Yes the LSAT tests the ability to study to a test to an extent but those who do well will be the ones who put time and effort into studying (or those naturally gifted enough at test taking that they will do well in law school anyway). Willingness to put in work is an admirable trait but not at all sufficient to make you even a competent lawyer. Likewise commitment to a field, while admirable, isn't a predictor of ones ability in such field.

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    2. Hey 2:55 p.m. May 2 Commenter,

      Who says the exam measures intellect. Everyone knows the LSAT doesn't test your IQ. You really are missing the point. How are you going to do well on your LSAT?

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    3. The LSAT may not be a perfect predictor of law school success, but it is a better predictor than GPA or anything currently being used to assess an applicant's ability.

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  6. @MBA 3.9 gpa comment. Thank you for your defensive response because I was able to recall what PowerScore refers to as "The Shell Game" when I read your comment. Your idea is changed just enough to look attractive but it's incorrect. I believe the comment you were disgruntled about specifically stated that this person feels they would have "less of an intellectual experience with more incompetent students" perhaps because the article states that "It's not much of a stretch to suspect that these students would be at increased risk of dropping out and failing the bar exam" ...and the paragraph after that sentence. The person might also feel they would have less of an intellectual experience in the classroom because if a professor frequently uses the Socratic method and students are called on to speak on a regular basis, it might not make for a fun class if only a few speak or if the majority of the class participates but most don't sound prepared enough.... Whatever the reason for the person's opinion that they'd imagine a less intellectual experience, he/she did not write that they'd be in a class with less intellectual "students" (as you've seemed to have understood it that way).
    So now to my question if anyone would like to answer. Page 81 of the PS Logical Reasoning book explains "The Shell Game" and then on page 82, "The Reverse Answer" is explained.... Could MBA/high-gpa success story's comment be considered both?

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  7. One thing missed. It's also plain to see the comment starts off with: "In a school where the LSAT is not a requirement for acceptance, I imagine I would have less of an intellectual experience in classrooms..." SO the commenter responding with "Do not classify all the poor LSAT takers into one group" does not make too much sense to begin with. No "poor LSAT takers are being classified in one group" -- the person is imagining ... "In a school where there's no requirement for the LSAT to be taken" !

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  8. Getting rid of the LSAT would make the entire admissions process even more arbitrary than it already is. The LSAT is a great equalizer which can be used to assess intelligence between students with varying backgrounds. In my own opinion, a student with a 3.4 GPA in Electrical Engineering and a 175 LSAT is far more impressive than a student with a 3.9 in Communications or History and a 163 LSAT.

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    1. Opinions are like assholes.....everybody has one!

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  9. Students have to still prove their intellectuality while in law school...and don't forget the bar exam.

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  10. But LSAT is good preparation for law school regardless of whether it correctly assesses 1L performance. I've gotten significantly better at analyzing complex arguments from studying the LSAT. NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

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  11. I am a Judge who graduated from a Big Ten University two quarters early with honors in a tough major. I had to work hard to get my grades and high GPA. However, I was a poor standardized test taker and did average on the LSAT and did not get in to the Big Ten School. I did well in law school and had a very successful private practice before going to the bench. I honestly believe that the LSAT is an absolutely horrible indicator of how someone will do in law school and as a lawyer as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the law and does not measure the best trait a lawyer can have, their willingness to work hard. I would much rather hire someone who worked hard for four years in college with good grades than to hire a person who slacked off for four years and had a mediocre GPA but got into a good law school because they could ace a standardized test given in over a couple of hours. Virtually every lawyer I know feels the same way about the LSAT. It should become an optional requirement for admission.

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    1. I concur and would like to file a motion to de-emphasize the importance of the LSAT either by banning its defacto requirement or by requiring additional metrics. This is particularly true for older applicants with decades of professional or business experience.

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  12. This is self-serving B.S. by the mid and lower tier law school deans. All this does is allow them to expand the pool of potential applicants to people who become frustrated or refuse to take the LSAT, without taking a corresponding hit to their medians. For people who fraudulently report employment data, shouldn't be too hard to report misleading LSAT numbers. LSAT range of 163-166 (out of 50% of the class that took the LSAT!) They've seen the decrease in applicants and know that eliminating the LSAT requirement will make it harder for prospective applicants to judge whether law school is a good investment.

    To Anon judge above, there are 45,000 JDs for 25,000 jobs. Anything that is boosting the number of JDs is bad for this profession. We've taken a huge reputation hit in the past few years because of the inability of the law schools to control the numbers of law graduates.

    For anyone who did bad on the LSAT, study again until you get a good score. That's what I did. If you can't get a better score, don't go to law school. We have enough JDs already.

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    1. Law is not rocket science. And banning or keeping the LSAT has nothing to do with how many people are admitted to law school. But by your own words, it has everything to do with the type of people admitted to law school and ultimately the legal field who arrogantly see themselves as chosen gods over the ignorant non-attorney masses. It's time for real diversity of ideas and lawyers who care about the law and people. A good start is to look beyond how well someone can take a timed standardized test.

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  13. Making the LSAT "optional" it opens the ability of "choice" and puts the burden where it belongs on the "individual". If the person chooses NOT to take the LSAT- then the schools that use the scores as a significantly weighted criteria, will be less likely to attend that particular school.

    In this manner, it makes the Admissions Board less responsible to meet a particular set of standards.

    Options allow for choices-and places responsibility where it belongs- to the individual.

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. So what is the update here? The LSAT is an oppressive tool to people who would otherwise excel in Law School due to high GPA and or Law Enforcement experience.

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