Monday, January 31, 2011
Is the LSAT the best way to gauge who will succeed in law school, or is it a barrier to diversity in the legal profession and a far too influential component of the rankings game?
That long-simmering debate has been reignited with news that the ABA is contemplating making the LSAT voluntary rather than mandatory for accreditation. Dumping the test would be a major departure — the test has been required for nearly 40 years — but the ABA's accreditation arm is developing new standards that give law schools more autonomy. ...
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the LSAT is that it has been proven time and again to be the best predictor of success during the first year of law school. Council research shows that LSAT scores do a better job of predicting first-year law school performance than undergraduate grade-point average alone, although a combination of both is best. ... Admissions officials rely heavily on the LSAT in part because undergraduate grade-point averages can't offer a head-to-head comparison between applicants. ...
[S]ome say the root of the problem is law school administrators, not the rankings. "I don't think U.S. News is the problem. They're the messenger," said John Nussbaumer, an associate dean at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and a frequent LSAT critic. "Schools set LSAT cutoffs higher than they need to be, and that's a business decision made by the school."
A 2009 study by two sociologists from the University of Iowa and Northwestern University concluded that the rankings play a significant part in admissions decisions and have prompted some schools to put more money toward merit-based scholarships to attract students with high LSAT scores — often at the expense of need-based scholarships. [The Effects of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools,]
The obsession with LSAT scores and rankings is demoralizing for schools that take a broader view of applicants and admit students who will make good lawyers but don't necessarily score highly on the test, said Suffolk University Law School Dean of Admissions Gail Ellis. "There is so much pressure. Everybody wants to be in the top tier," ...
Of all the criticism aimed at the LSAT, the most persistent is that the test — and the way scores are used — undermines diversity efforts.
Nussbaumer has been studying the effects of the LSAT on minorities since 2005. For a forthcoming law review article [The Door to Law School], he and fellow Cooley professor and ABA Standards Review Committee member Christopher Johnson Jr. analyzed 10 years of law school application data and concluded that blacks had a "shutout" rate of 60% — meaning that the majority of applicants received no admission offer. Hispanics had a shutout rate of 45%; whites had a shutout rate of 31%. Those results closely correlated with the average LSAT score for each group, with whites having the highest average LSAT at 153 and blacks the second lowest, 142.
Some members of Standards Review Committee aren't sure the ABA should be telling law schools how to admit students, and note that the accrediting agencies for medical and business schools do not require any specific admission test. Additionally, the ABA's LSAT requirement financially benefits the council, said David Yellen, a member of the committee and the dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law. ... [T]he test has helped the council build up wealth and influence. It reported nearly $140 million in net assets to the IRS in 2008, the latest figure available. ...Would law schools actually stop using the LSAT if the ABA made it optional? Probably not, most legal educators agreed. The test has become such a big part of the admissions process that it would be difficult to move away from it. However, schools are already --experimenting, admitting small numbers of students who haven't taken the test. Since 2009, the ABA has granted waivers allowing seven law schools to use tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test in lieu of the LSAT. Both the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Illinois College of Law have launched such programs, limited to juniors from their respective undergraduate schools. Both programs show early promise, administrators said.
- ABA May Make LSAT Optional (Jan. 13, 2011)
- 'Hasta la Vista, LSAT?' (Jan. 14, 2011)
- US News to Continue to Use LSAT in Rankings, Even if ABA Makes LSAT Optional (Jan. 24, 2011)