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by Vault Education Editors | January 14, 2011


 The American Bar Association is considering scrapping the LSAT as a requirement for law school admission, according to the National Law Journal.  

"Is taking a standardized test the only way to determine if someone should be able to go to law school? Schools ought to decide how they want to admit students," said committee member David Yellen, Dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Yellen said the role of the ABA was to ensure that law schools produce "students who can enter the practice."

Two main concerns arise. One, noted in the article, is that dropping the LSAT requirement would make it easier for the rankings-obsessed schools to try to elevate their US News position. The other, not mentioned, is that even with all the reasons why certain people should not be going to law school—no jobs, a lifetime of punishing debt—removing a barrier to entry will almost certainly cause the enrollment at lower-tier law schools to shoot up, as they dupe more and more people into mortgaging away their futures.  

Yellen, who thinks that "most schools would keep it," knows that law schools will use that to their advantage to game the rankings. But he thinks worrying about that consequence should not be part of the ABA's decision-making process. That left Above the Law's Elie Mystal a little perturbed:

(I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t hear Dean Yellen blithely say that U.S. News — the thing that law students and law schools pay the most attention to — wasn’t something the ABA should take into account. I’m just going to pretend the ABA didn’t just say that its response to the immense power a for-profit magazine has over legal education in America is to IGNORE it.)

Again, Dean Yellen either misses or is willfully ignorant of the most important point here. We’re not worried about the vast majority of law schools who will keep the LSAT. We’re worried about the few law school administrations that will gladly drop it. We’re worried about their motivations for dropping it. We’re worried about the students who will be admitted and charged full price simply because they can pay full price and not because they have any shot at being licensed attorneys. We’re worried about the schools that will have no incentive to attract the best possible students (however defined) and are instead free to go after the most gullible students.

With a more phlegmatic response, Brian Leiter predicted two consequences, one positive and one negative:

1) it would permit schools to focus more on the prior academic record of the applicant and other qualities that might be indicative of likely success in the legal profession, both of which would be preferable to emphasizing ability to take a standardized test (especially one that rewards preparation more than ability); and (2) given the continued existence of U.S. News and its limitless appetite for fake quantitative precision, the rankings would probably just increase the weight of median GPA, which would then undercut the possible beneficial effects in (1), since schools would then focus on GPA without regard for the difficulty of the course of study.

The article notes that the committee's talk about the LSAT requirement is just part of a larger conversation taking place that has to do with changing the way law schools are evaluated. Student-learning outcomes, for instance. How can you evaluate schools without relying so much on factors like the size of the law library or faculty-to-student ratios or bar-passage rates? The committee's proposal would offer schools more room to define their own educational goals.

If losing the LSAT is part of a larger effort to reform the way law schools are evaluated, which would then affect the types of students to admit and to graduate, I applaud that. (Especially because the country seems to be heading in the direction of more tests and more standardization.) But I agree with those who believe the LSAT, unfortunately, too entrenched, too central a part of the machinery at this point to just yank out without a well-thought-out alternative in place. 

[National Law Journal]

[Brian Leiter]

[Above the Law]

Related: A Little Less Standardized, A Little More Balanced: Keep The LSAT but Emphasize it Less



Filed Under: Education|Grad School

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