Paul L. Caron

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ABA Legal Ed Committee Proposes Changes To Accreditation Standard On Law School Admissions Tests

ABA Section On Legal Education (2016)ABA Journal, ABA Legal Ed Committee Suggests Changes to Rule on Law School Admissions Tests:

After recent announcements from various law schools that they will accept the GRE from applicants in addition to the LSAT, an American Bar Association section committee recently made various accreditation standard recommendations, including doing away with the separate admissions test rule entirely.

In March, the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar sought notice and comment for a proposed revision to Standard 503 — which covers admission tests — that called for the council to establish a process that determines the reliability and validity of other tests besides the LSAT. That’s a change from the current version, which directs law schools using alternate admissions tests to demonstrate that the exams are valid and reliable.

The section’s Standards Review Committee — which met Friday and Saturday in Boston —recommends that the council reject the earlier proposal, and consider three options:

  • Eliminate Standard 503 and revise Standard 501 — which requires admitting competent candidates — so that it includes having a valid admissions test as a factor for determining whether a law school is in compliance with the rule. Under this proposal, the requirement of having a valid and reliable admissions test would be removed from the standards.
  • Revise Standard 503 to require an admissions test that assesses applicants’ capabilities, and require that law schools publish lists of accepted tests. Under that recommendation, there would be no requirement that the council determines whether the admissions tests are valid and reliable.
  • Keep requirement that admissions tests be valid and reliable, but remove “protection” that the March proposal granted to the LSAT.

The section’s council will consider the recommendations at its November meeting in Boston. ...

The standards review committee also addressed distance learning, faculty teaching requirements and diversity at its recent meeting. The group recommended that the council adopt a proposed revision to remove a percentage requirement for overall curriculum taught by full-time faculty, and send out for notice and comment a proposal regarding distance learning that would allow a law school to give students credit for up to of 50 percent work needed for a law degree.

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Yawn. The numerous reporters and higher education policy folk who I am in contact with - through this pseudonym, no less - don’t think me an inveterate liar. Weird. And everything I wrote in my last post is verifiable. Let’s see: Oh, look! Only 61.8% of the Class of 2016 landed a full-time, long-term, license-required job at any salary within TEN months of graduation. That’s right – both the ABA and NALP have been measuring TEN months out for some years now, not nine months out as the person who accuses me of lying claims. What a fantastic set of outcomes… Great job! Oh, right – I forgot: the other 40% are all presumed to be working at GS or MBB because reasons. Yup. And I suppose we should also presume that only 6 in 10 law school students attend because they want to practice law, too. That there is a strong correlation between USNWR rank and the percentage of a school’s grads that land FT/LT/license-required jobs has nothing to do with it, I’m sure…

Say, where in your NALP link does it say that most of the 12% of law school grads who are out of work are all expectant or new mothers? I don’t see any gender breakdown in your link. Hmmm. Anyhoo, this is why I like to use the ABA employment information data under these circumstances, as it breaks unemployed down into “seeking work,” “not seeking work,” “pursuing graduate degree,” “work start date pushed back,” and “unknown.” Granted, one or two law schools stuff nearly all of their unemployed into the “not looking” tab in this year or that, but that’s the risk we take when there is no real punishment for falsely reporting data… say, remember last year when the first third-party audit of ten random law schools’ employment reports found that only five of the ten schools were within the acceptable margin of error?

Hey, let’s look at the full NALP report for the Class of 2016, available at the link inside your link. What does the director of the National Association of Law Placement have to say about the present perfection of the job market for law school grads?

“Notably, like the class that preceded it, this class secured fewer private practice jobs than any class since 1996…. Importantly, the employment data for the last three classes were collected as of March 15, approximately ten months after a typical May graduation [UN Note: once again, ten months is not nine months] … the number of jobs secured by the graduating class has dropped by 6,375 (nearly 17%) to 31,355 from the high of 37,730 measured for the Class of 2013…. What the data do show is that for the second year in a row the actual number of jobs obtained went down in every sector except the largest law firms of more than 500 lawyers. Members of this class secured just about 16,600 jobs in law firms of any size, down by more than 5,000 since the number of those jobs peaked for the Class of 2007. And while the largest law firms of more than 500 lawyers hired more law school graduates than at any time since the recession, the number of entry-level jobs at those firms is still off by nearly 1,000 positions compared with the peak hiring measured with the Class of 2008…. In the law firm environment, we also know that demand for legal services has been fairly flat and that expenses are once again growing at a faster rate, driven largely by lawyer headcount and higher associate salaries, and by the growing costs of technology and cybersecurity measures. And for law firms of every size, growing efficiencies created by technology and business systems, and increased competition from non-traditional legal services providers will both likely continue to put downward pressure on overall law firm lawyer headcount in the coming years and even decades…. we also know that most jobs are not in fact earmarked for new law school graduates, and in many instances other than certain clerkship opportunities and many large law firm opportunities, graduates will continue to compete with other junior lawyers for most jobs, and it is still a scrappy and entrepreneurial job market where graduates often create their own job opportunities rather than being hired for a position that is vacant. While the percentage of law school graduates who are unemployed and still seeking work ten months after graduation has come down by two and a half percentage points to 8.7% over the last three years, it continues to be more than twice as high as the unemployment rate measured nine months after graduation in the period prior to the recession, and this, more than anything, remains an important marker of the current job market for new law school graduates.”

Or as our friend would put it, “Everything is perfect and everyone is successful! Apply now!”

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 17, 2017 8:55:06 AM

Unemployed Northeastern is such an inveterate liar, he doesn't even realize when he's lying. The employment rate 9 months after graduation for law graduates is 88%.
Most of the remaining 12 percent are people who are not seeking work, for example because they're raising children (Yes, UNE, women do go to law school and have children in their 20s and 30s!).

Posted by: Lying Scambloggers | Oct 15, 2017 11:36:28 AM

There's not much reason to believe that the GRE can't do what the LSAT does about as well as the LSAT. Why make people jump through pointless hoops and take a zillion standardized tests that are all testing the same thing in the end?

Posted by: Pointless hassle | Oct 13, 2017 10:36:33 AM

The "bottom line" is that law teachers (traditional, clinical and legal writing and senior administrators) have absolutely no where to go and therefore will make up any reason that seems to even partially justify their continuation in the "sweetest job in the world". It really is that simple and if any person were faced with the mostly all or nothing existence of being in a safe Garden of Eden on a law school faculty with all the perks and privileges that accompany the position versus being cut loose to fend for oneself in the increasingly dismal world of law practice they would do the same thing. The thing that irks me is all the holier than thou elevated rhetoric aimed at justifying legal education and the fact that innocent aspiring students are being forced to pay for the sinecure. If law faculty salaries were cut by a third or half then they could look into the mirror. Right now it is simply corrupt.

Posted by: David | Oct 12, 2017 4:06:48 PM

Yeah, the *scam* narrative continues to exist because law schools haven't managed to place even 65% of their graduates into the profession once since 2011 (and more probably since 2008 or even earlier). It exists because tuition continues to outpace undergrad even as the actual number of legal jobs continues declining (it was under 23,000 for the most recent year, IIRC). The unemployment rate for law school grads is still quite a bit higher than it is for four-year college graduates. And most college students at this point have read enough news coverage or spoken to enough older ex-classmates to know that no, Dorothy, the JD is not a substitute MBA (one of many graduate programs that accepts the GRE) or degree of any meaningful versatility.* Frankly, their colleges are warning them. My undergrad alma mater, which is either a competitor of or safety for schools like Harvard (depending on how snobbish one is), now proactively counsels their students looking at law school about the financial risks and employment risks entailed - and I played no part in their decision to do so. The real median starting salary nationwide is still down more than 20% since the Class of 2008 graduated. And even the real starting salary for NYC market firms is down more than $10k compared to when Simpson Thacher went to $160k in early 2007, even as Biglaw feeder law schools now sticker 50% higher than they did in 2007. The scam narrative continues because clients push back against junior associate billables and legal employers increasingly don’t want to provide the basic professional training that law schools uniformly ignore because it’s considered *vocational* (and because so many law professors have only the barest knowledge of practicing law themselves). The scam narrative exists because law schools and their graduates continue to be in crisis. And it will only get worse when Devos and Congress get around to gutting IBR plans and GradPLUS.

“That seems short sighted and long term problematic for the profession and professionals that we hope to train. It also seems bad for the brand. If it is too easy to enter the profession, quality will suffer.”

To the extent this is a veiled defense of the LSAT and attack on the GRE, as allowing the GRE is the entire point of the ABA’s exercise here… say, isn't that one law school defender funded by LSAC? I will say that it is fun to watch the cognitive dissonance of “the scammers are wrong and law school bestows a wage premium on everyone so please apply because the numbers are still way, way, way down from before the recession” in conjunction with “But the GRE is bad because reasons and it will hurt the law schools’ brand!” Remind me, which exam has graded quantitative and writing sections? Which one is used for the admissions test to quantitative social sciences and STEM graduate programs?

*With the obvious exception for those law degrees of exceptional pedigree; i.e. the “McKinsey will hire the Art History major from Yale over the finance major from UCONN” loophole.

Now that that is out of the way, it would sure be nice if Interpretation 503-3 was continued. In fact, an expansion of Interpretation 503-3 to set some minimum floor for LSAT-taking students is overdue, as it would provide a much-needed floor for Standard 501(b). Or perhaps or Anon friend wouldn’t mind explaining why allowing applicants with >3.5 GPAs and >85th percentile LSAT scores makes it “too easy to enter the profession” when there are law schools out there with 25th percentile LSAT scores in the 130s and uGPAs around 2.5. The high 130s puts one around the 9th percentile of LSAT test-takers. Or to put it another way, applicants who only got about seven more answer right than they probabilistically would have had they randomly filled in the bubble sheet. Please, defend these admits while denigrating any use of the GRE.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 12, 2017 10:03:41 AM

@ Anon,

At first I was against the GRE as an admissions test for similar reasons. Now I am all for it, but I think it works better if we abandon the 10% rule and let schools admit any number of applicants just based on the GRE. I think this will increase transparency. The public may not know what a 148 on the LSAT means, but they will know if half a schools student body scored a 930 combined on the GRE that something is really wrong.

Posted by: JM | Oct 12, 2017 9:13:41 AM

The other proposed changes addressing distance learning, faculty teaching requirements, and diversity would benefit legal education. Eliminating the rule requiring full-time faculty to teach a percentage of courses would allow more practitioners to teach students. The ultimate goal of the legal profession is to serve clients. The purpose of law school is to train students to meet the needs of those clients. Students will obtain a much better education learning from experienced professionals who understand the needs of clients, who have extensive experience in a particular area of law, and are up to date on trends within their specialty.

Even though medical education has been very successful training doctors, the schools have listened to students and graduates and reformed medical education. Medical students are finishing their core classroom curriculum in less than two years and are getting into the hospitals and clinics sooner. Students are even seeing patients in their first year. The core curriculum is now integrated and incorporates small group learning and hands on learning. Legal education should follow suit.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | Oct 12, 2017 9:04:18 AM

I'm actually not a supporter of this kind of professional rentseeking to restrict supply done in the name of consumer protection. But I guess that ship has sailed and I doubt the committee is acting out some deeply felt market principles.

Left, right and center everyone know this is a transparent money grab. They need to increase revenues, by increasing the number of students, but avoid taking the rating plunge such action would entail. So you have them take separate tests with no relation to law school, and get lower Iq student in that way.

Here is my call: either abolish yourself and let clients judge lawyer quality or actually set standards that avoid playing these stupid games to increase the applicant pool at any cost.

Posted by: The Prince | Oct 12, 2017 7:28:46 AM

This will not do anything to discourage the scam narrative. Our response to the drop in qualified applicants has been more regulatory capture. That seems short sighted and long term problematic for the profession and professionals that we hope to train. It also seems bad for the brand. If it is too easy to enter the profession, quality will suffer.

Frankly, these “reforms” smell of handouts to law schools rather than remedies to problems.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 12, 2017 5:36:02 AM