The Justice Pipeline
A Monthly Column by Kellye Y. Testy (President, Law School Admissions Council)
Thanks again to Dean Caron for the opportunity to post monthly on law school admissions. I chose the title The Justice Pipeline for my column to remind us all that our work at the gateway to the legal profession carries a collective responsibility for our nation’s civil and criminal justice systems. Moreover, the global dimensions of law link our system of justice with others around the world.
As we focus on our gateway role, we have seen some welcome news in the past few months. There was a nearly 20% increase over last year in candidates taking the LSAT in June, and now, an increase of 12% for September registrations. We all hope those upticks will translate to an even more robust pipeline of candidates for law school. Our world needs more law-trained leaders who have both the capacity and the commitment to solve our most complex problems. Legal education is up to this task. During a time of significant challenge for legal education, law schools have worked hard to deliver more value. Many of the innovations are impressive, but even more impressive is the spirit of innovation that has taken root in legal education. That spirit will serve our students and our justice system well.
As we all move forward together in this environment, there remain many significant issues in legal education that need our attention, analysis, and action. Recent debates about whether a different admission test might help us navigate some of the challenges we face have highlighted the need for increased reflection on core issues. In this month’s post, I’d like to highlight two of these issues.
The first issue is one that we talk a lot about (both loudly and in whispers) but have yet to really address: the influence of the U.S. News ranking system on our work. This is admittedly a tough issue to take on because schools are so differently situated vis-à-vis the influence of the ranking system that finding common ground is difficult. But, concern about the influence of these rankings swirls around (and beneath) many other issues. Until we confront the ranking issue directly, we may risk initiatives that create other problems rather than solving the underlying one. Could we all work together to create a better ranking system? Competition is healthy and yet no competitor to the current ranking system has ever gained traction.
A second issue that calls for our collective attention is that our profession continues to fall far short of keeping pace with the increasing diversity of our population. I believe that this issue is related to “rankings” in that over-reliance on the admission measures of success that U.S. News “counts” means that for many schools more diverse candidates apply to law school than are admitted. LSAC has long cautioned that the LSAT (and any standardized test) should be one of several factors used in admission. We may seek to attract more applicants to law school by increasing pipeline programs, by offering a different admission test, or by other measures, but we also need to address why we are not admitting candidates with the potential for success who are already right in front of us, ready to start their studies.
Because we are the “justice pipeline,” these two big issues (and I know there are others), deserve our immediate collective attention. I am eager to help in my new role with LSAC. We strive to be an effective partner with law schools, law school applicants, and the legal community. We are committed to lending our expertise and our own growing spirit of innovation to the tasks and complex issues before us.
Our justice system deserves no less.