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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Law Students' Character, Rather Than LSATs/UGPAs, Is Best Predictor For Success As Lawyer

Indiana Lawyer, Character Better Predictor of Lawyering Success, Panel Says:

Although Rebecca Love Kourlis sees more collaboration than in the past, she said the gap between the skills the legal profession needs in today’s market and the attorneys law schools are producing is not only widening but will be difficult for legal education to overcome.

Kourlis, retired Colorado Supreme Court justice and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, was one of three panelists who participated in a discussion about legal education during the 7th Circuit Bar Association annual meeting and judicial conference April 30-May 2 in Indianapolis.

Joining in the panel discussion, “The Future of Law School,” were Randall Shepard, retired chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court; and William Henderson, Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor and co-founder of Lawyer Metrics.

The trio highlighted research that has been showing grade point averages and LSAT scores are not the best indicators for future success in the legal profession. Rather, students with character traits like a strong work ethic and emotional stability will be likelier to excel.

Speaking after the discussion, Kourlis said the unprecedented changes brought by the Great Recession may require different skills for working in a law firm or an in-house legal department, or taking a more entrepreneurial approach and helping to launch a legal services startup. While law schools are responding, catching up to current demands will be difficult and could lead to bad decisions.

“I worry when people say, ‘Well, the answer is to just shrink law schools,’” Kourlis said. “I don’t think the solution is fewer lawyers. I think the solution is more lawyers who are more adaptable and, perhaps, have less debt so that they’re not carrying around a ball and chain around their ankle.”

The IAALS’s Foundations for Practice survey found that personal characteristics such as integrity, resilience and common sense, along with professional competencies such as arriving on time and being able to work on a team, were the top skills lawyers needed right out of law school. The legal skills such as research and analysis were viewed as important but something that could be acquired over time. ...

A 2008 Law School Admission Council study, conducted by University of California Berkeley Law professor Marjorie Shultz and psychology professor Sheldon Zedeck, concluded the LSAT score does not predict who will become a better lawyer. Instead “effectiveness factors” such as creativity, writing clearly, identifying problems and appropriate solutions, and listening were determined to more reliably spot future success.

During the question-and-answer portion of the discussion, Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, asked Henderson whether law schools are looking more at an applicant’s personal makeup when deciding whom to enroll. Henderson cited the familiar refrain from law schools that they are constrained by the U.S. News & World Report rankings. This annual survey rates the quality of law schools, in part, by the average GPA and LSAT scores of the students. Flouting those criteria comes with the potential price, Henderson said, of sinking a school’s position on the rankings and raising consternation among the alumni.

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How are we supposed to measure this? How did they measure this? Or is this fluff? The best measure is a time machine. We just go forward & see what happens. We haven't discovered that one either...yet.

Posted by: anonymous | May 17, 2017 10:15:37 AM

Ah, but there is a well-known and age-old connection between the US News rank of one's law school and the percentage of that school's graduates who manage to find full-time, long-term, license-required jobs. I believe Faculty Lounge pegged the correlation coefficient around .75 or so a few years ago. And law schools, despite whatever holistic blather they might spew otherwise, care about two things and two things only: LSAT scores and uGPAs. As the actual number of FT/LT/license-required jobs continues to decrease each year, this is of no little importance (10% fewer such jobs for Class of 2016 than for Class of 2012, 22,930 versus 26,066).

And of course for the *good* lawyering jobs with salaries and/or exit options necessary to justify what law schools charge - Biglaw, fed clerkships, other fed gov't roles, etc - rank/prestige become far more important. I'm sure this will be refuted by some anonymous double Ivy law prof sitting in his office surrounded by other interchangeable double Ivy law profs sitting in their offices, but there you have it.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 17, 2017 11:52:16 AM

> How are we supposed to measure this?

Ideology tests of course.

Posted by: Momo | May 18, 2017 3:53:42 PM

As a retired lawyer, let me give an example. I once researched and wrote an Amicus brief for a national organization of patent lawyers. It was spot on, but came to the wrong conclusion. It was never used.
Now...where did the "character" issue fail to come into play.

Posted by: Jim Brock | May 18, 2017 3:54:01 PM

My post was intended to expand the definition to include intellectual honesty and technical rigor,

Posted by: Jim Brock | May 18, 2017 3:56:41 PM

The pursuit of ever higher rankings comes at the expense of the "meat and potatoes," practical courses which young lawyers need to be able to make a living. Over the last thirty years, I've seen applicant transcripts with more and more esoteric, "intellectual" coursework, which in turn requires me, as an employer, to spend months getting a new hire up to speed. Of course, that presupposes that I can find someone to come work for me whose student debt load doesn't necessitate a Biglaw salary.

Posted by: RS | May 18, 2017 4:27:17 PM

So if you work hard and avoid being a batsh#t crazy drama queen, you might do well as a lawyer? Who would have thunk it?

Posted by: anymouse | May 18, 2017 4:58:55 PM

Well, it's not easy to measure common sense, creativity, a strong work ethic, and emotional stability, but I will bet that LSAT scores and UGPA are highly correlated with all of those factors. LSAT scores and UGPA may not be perfect predictors of success for a lawyer, but they are generally the best predictors available to law school admissions officers.

Posted by: Ralph | May 18, 2017 7:23:53 PM

Since the practice of law has devolved into winning. regardless of truth or fact, into choosing the most malleable jurists, into finding the most amenable judges, where, exactly, does character have a place?

Posted by: Thomas Hazlewood | May 19, 2017 12:20:43 PM

Well said, Mr. Hazlewood. Well said.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | May 20, 2017 8:18:28 AM