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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Steinbuch: Questionable Arguments About The LSAT's Role In Admissions And Bar Passage

Following up on my previous posts:

Robert Steinbuch (Arkansas-Little Rock), Questionable Arguments About Serious Statistics:

I write to continue the interesting discussion with Aaron Taylor regarding the proper role of the LSAT in law school admissions. ...

Unfortunately, Taylor confuses some simple statistical truths, both in general and regarding LSAT scores and bar passage, specifically: First, correlations can be explained through any of the following: causation, reverse causation, or "third" variables. Second, nobody actually thinks that LSAT scores cause bar outcomes or vice versa. After all, how can a score on one exam cause a score on another? And, third, LSAT scores demonstrably help predict bar success due to at least one underlying common causal factor of both, i.e., likely some measure of skill. Empirical analysis is complex, and clichés and truisms do nothing to simplify it....

I'm happy to debate the usefulness for admissions decisions of having a pre-consideration test that soundly predicts 13% or more of the outcome on the bar exam (before having attended one day of law school), but Taylor doesn't actually do that. He merely asserts that the exam has an "outsized role in the admissions process," but never discloses how much weight is, in fact, given to LSAT scores by law schools individually or collectively. He seems to use the LSAT as a Boogeyman to bemoan what he sees as an underrepresentation of minorities in law schools. But the notion that LSAT scores are used to shift law school seats from minorities to non-minorities is demonstrably wrong.

Ultimately, Taylor hasn't offered any meaningful viable alternative to considering LSAT scores and undergraduate G.P.A.s of applicants to law school. Both aid in predicting whether applicants will pass the bar exam. Taylor can spend as much time as he see fit positing whatever theories he may have as to why; but, in the meantime, that association remains very real and useful.  And Taylor's expressed ignorance about the confounding factor(s) shouldn't be used as a cudgel to avoid consideration of LSAT scores in the admissions process.

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I'll add that I appreciate the desire to live in a world in which no metric will be able to predict bar passage. That would mean that law schools will have so mastered teaching that they could overcome all deficits in all students, including intellectual and economic. So far, no law school has perfected this alchemy, but I'll be the first to advocate discarding admissions requirements if this aspiration is fully achieved.

Posted by: Robert Steinbuch | Sep 8, 2017 8:56:00 AM