The LSAT, Law School Admission, and Role The LSAT Plays in Law School Admission
– John Richardson, Toronto Canada
The LSAT is required by almost every law school in the United States and Canada. (It is interesting that the law schools in Michigan, Illinois and Alabama have not required the LSAT in certain circumstances. It is unclear how this is consistent with the ABA
Let’s begin with some sentiment from the mainstream media:
“Yet it’s well-known among law school applicants that many Canadian schools sort their applications into piles by LSAT score and simply axe off those below a certain percentile. How many brilliant future lawyers are lost below that line, who, for one reason or another, simply can’t handle the LSAT?
It seems to me that there’s some room here for a Canadian law school to set itself apart by announcing a new, more holistic approach to admissions by waiving the LSAT requirement and perhaps doing something like having admissions interviews, which no Canadian law school does, instead, on top of using references and personal statements and extra-curriculars and undergraduate performance. If not for a whole
entering class, then perhaps schools could set aside a certain portion of first-year seats for applicants that do not require the LSAT, like the University of Michigan law school did in 2008.
Is there anything about the LSAT that makes it sacrosanct?”
That’s the question the American Bar Association (ABA) is currently asking itself. Or more specifically the question is:
“Should a law school be required to use the LSAT as a condition of being approved by the ABA?”
Why does the ABA matter to law schools?
The answer is that in order to:
– be admitted to the bar, one must pass the bar exam
– in order to pass the bar exam, one must be allowed to take the bar exam
– in order to have assurance that one can take the bar exam in any
state, one must graduate from a law school approved by the ABA.
– In order for a school to be approved by the ABA, the school is
required by the ABA to require applicants to take a “valid and
reliable admission test”
– The ABA considers the LSAT to be a “valid and reliable admissions
test” (whether the LSAT is actually valid or reliable is immaterial)
To be precise the ABA rules state that:
“Standard 503. ADMISSION TEST
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.
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.”
The ABA is now considering whether to end the requirement that law schools use the LSAT as a condition to be approved by the ABA. In the words of one commentator:
“The Law School Admission Test, the long-held standard for admission to most American law schools, may no longer be required in a couple of years.
A subcommittee of the American Bar Association’s Standards Review Committee is considering making usage of the test voluntary for its member schools instead of mandatory.
Donald J. Polden, chairman of the ABA’s Standards Review Committee, said the subcommittee is proposing eliminating the Standard 503 requirement that calls for each applicant “to take a valid and reliable admission test” to assist the school in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing law school.
“To date, there is only one national exam,” Polden said. “The LSAT is really the only test that is capable of being used, although another test could be used if it was found to be valid and reliable. The background is intended to ensure law schools do not admit students that the law school doesn’t have a reasonable basis to believe [could]
be successful in law school and be admitted to the practice of law.”
For law schools, prospective law students, LSAT test takers, and those of us who are involved in LSAT preparation, this is a fascinating issue. There are at least four questions:
1. Should law schools be required to use a “valid and reliable
admission test” ?
2. Is the LSAT a “valid and reliable admission test”?
3. If the requirement of a “valid and reliable admission test” is
discontinued, will the law schools continue to require a “valid and
reliable admission test” in their own admissions process?
4. If either the ABA or the law schools continue to require a “valid
and reliable admissions test” what test or tests should be required?
Should the LSAT be the only game in town?
Each of these questions will be considered in a separate LSAT blog post.
Should the LSAT be required? Absolutely. Anyone who has any experience in the social sciences as they relate to education should be acutely aware that standardized testing has serious flaws. However, if a prospective student is unable to achieve on the LSAT, how do you expect them to perform on the bar exam? It would seem to me that the bar exam is the single most important standardized test the attorney will ever take. Why should law schools accept prospectives who show that over the course of their past 16-18 years of schooling, they still have not mastered the art of standardized test taking? And speaking of test taking in general, how well do you think these prospectives will perform on 4-hour law school examinations? Students should learn test taking skills now, before applying to law school. On the same token, the LSAC should take steps to improve the test when possible and universities should provide their students with free access to extensive LSAT prep. It is not just for middle-income students, who neither can afford to take such classes nor qualify for need-based scholarship funds to cover the costs, to be put at such a disadvantage in the admissions process.