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by Vault Law Editors | January 14, 2011


C eats lunch with F every other day. E only eats lunch when C does. A and B can’t eat lunch when E does. F always has lunch at noon on Friday. D never has lunch at noon on Friday . . . say what? Didn’t you know that you needed to understand lunch schedules to get into law school? If your head still hurts, you’re not alone. Tons of prospective law students pore over puzzles like these, preparing for the monster exam that essentially decides which tier they’ll call home.

But logic games and reading comprehension may be ordeals of the past. A committee reviewing the American Bar Association’s law school accreditation standards is contemplating whether to make the LSAT a voluntary admissions requirement for law schools. Dean David Yellen of Loyola University Chicago Law School is a member of this committee and is undecided if the LSAT should be mandatory. "Is taking a standardized test the only way to determine if someone should be able to go to law school?” asks Yellen.

No. A standardized test isn’t the only way to select law students, but it's definitely the easiest way. Everyone gets scores which then can be used to compare and filter thousands of applicants. Of course, easiest doesn’t always mean best, and I don’t think the LSAT alone is sufficient to predict future legal success. The LSAT certainly strives to test law students on necessary lawyering skills like analysis, logic, and reading comprehension. But the application of these skills in law school and in practice is quite different. Analysis is critical to lawyering, but synthesizing and analyzing precedent, statutes, and scholarly material and applying proper judgment to reach a conclusion for your client aren't things that a standardized test can measure. Nor can a test evaluate one’s communication & interpersonal skills, leadership abilities, aptitude for the law, capacity to think on one’s feet and willingness to work hard . . . really hard. Plus, some people are just terrible at standardized tests regardless of how intelligent they are.

But I don’t think standardized testing should be tossed. With so many law-school applicants, deciding admissions on non-standardized factors alone would make for an almost-impossible admissions process. The real problem with the LSAT is that it seems to be the main factor in admissions decisions rather than one factor (which I’m guessing derives from the rankings’ emphasis on the LSAT). And while the LSAT may be a gauge of intelligence and critical thinking, it shouldn’t be the only one.

So I think it is great that this committee is evaluating the importance of the LSAT because perhaps this discussion will bring forth alternative ways for evaluating candidates that give more applicants a shot at law school or at their first-choice schools. For example, law schools may consider implementing interviews, something that my MBA-bound friends underwent but I never did. And maybe in addition to personal statements, schools could institute legal-writing tests. Similar to law-school-journal competition submissions, schools could require applicants to analyze a legal question based on provided materials (case law, statutes, legislative history, etc.). Surely a better understanding of candidates’ communication skills and abilities to assess legal issues would provide superior bases for evaluating them.

A single test shouldn’t be the only true admissions factor. Gaining a more balanced picture of a prospective student’s lawyering skills and weighing all factors more equally would be a better method of determining who is fit for law school.

By the way, where was this committee when I was applying for law school, spending hours in the library trying to decide when D should eat his bologna sandwich?

The National Law Journal Source




Filed Under: Law

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