TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Harvard Law School, The GRE, And Moneyball

GRE Harvard MoneyballFollowing up on my previous posts:

Forbes, Harvard Law School's Moneyball Moment:

Starting with next year’s admissions cycle, Harvard Law school will launch a pilot program allowing applicants to apply with either the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the standardized test that nearly all law schools have used for decades, or the GRE General Test (GRE), used by many graduate programs outside of law or medical school. ... 

[M]uch of what makes Harvard Harvard is the quality of the talent it is able to attract. The lure of Wall Street or Silicon Valley, the availability of capital for everything from biotech to software to social media start-ups, and the increasingly tenuous ROI for students ready to invest time and money in an expensive law degree are all siphoning off their share of recent college graduates who might otherwise have chosen law school.

It is to Harvard’s advantage to increase access to top talent and to be able to cast a wider net. As Jessica Soban, Harvard Law School’s Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Admissions, put it, “Harvard Law School works to eliminate barriers to legal education for top talent. We seek that talent from a variety of backgrounds: across different academic disciplines, different countries, and different socio-economic backgrounds.”

Enter the GRE. By accepting the GRE, in one fell swoop, Harvard gets access to 600,000 test takers in 160 different countries and a test that applicants can schedule 360 days a year. The LSAT, by comparison, is administered four times a year in 20 different countries, to about 85,000 students. If you are looking for talent, the GRE pool is far wider and far deeper, in part because the test is far more accessible. ... The wonder is not that they broke with tradition by accepting the GRE, the wonder is that they didn’t do it sooner.

Harvard, it seems, has finally recognized what the rest of the schools have forgotten: it’s not the test that counts, it’s the talent. A friend, whose daughter got a perfect score on the LSAT, was recently complaining about how aggressive the recruiters are from the top schools – solely on the basis of scores. Is it possible that law schools have confused the yardstick with that which is being measured? ...

Harvard, as the uncontested leader of the pack, is uniquely positioned to change the rules of the game without threatening its brand. They have gone where their competitors cannot. In so doing, they have expanded their access to the one essential asset that no school can do without: qualified applicants. They have also shrewdly given themselves an early adopter’s advantage. Like Billy Beane’s Oakland A's, they have broken with tradition and in so doing, have found their own Moneyball moment.

Legal Education | Permalink


"It is to Harvard’s advantage to increase access to top talent and to be able to cast a wider net. "

I keep thinking that the marginal gains from accepting people who for some reason didn't take the LSAT are close to nill.

According to Google, their acceptance rate is < 16%.

Posted by: Barry | Apr 26, 2017 4:05:52 PM

By the strange logic of US News, if you get more people to apply and reject them, you rank better. Very strange.

Posted by: mike livingston | Apr 26, 2017 9:11:20 PM

Mike and Barry have it. This won't improve the quality of students that Harvard takes in or the quality of lawyers it produces (and it may actually impair the latter). If there is any reason other than gaming US News rankings, it's so that Harvard can dupe some disaffected grad students into attending law school because "it's Harvard" and they watched The Paperchase once and it was, like, sort of cool and exciting.

Posted by: Marty Robbins | Apr 27, 2017 5:24:55 AM

How much money will Harvard make by expanding the number of rejected applicants from whom it will charge $85 to apply? The Ivies make millions off of rejected students.

Posted by: Johann Amadeus Metesky | Apr 27, 2017 8:36:33 AM

95% of me thinks this is about gaining more applicants (there can ALWAYS be more applicants is the mantra of all the Ivy League schools) and providing cover for other law schools to use the GRE to nab more applicants to curb their collapsing enrollments. HOWEVER, I do acknowledge that there is a growing and fervent desire around Boston (and likely other STEM-intensive cities) to have IP, particularly patent, lawyers more resembles scientists than jurists. There are seriously boutiques around here that require their new lawyers have at least a M.S. in a STEM discipline. The usual pipeline is Suffolk / New England Law at night while post-doc'ing during the day; perhaps the GRE is used to lure some of those people to Harvard instead. It's a stretch, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 27, 2017 9:02:44 AM