Paul L. Caron

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Arizona Deans: It's Time To Rethink The Law School Entrance Exam Monopoly

GRELSATThe Hill op-ed:  It's Time to Rethink the Law School Entrance Exam Monopoly, by Marc Miller (Dean, Arizona) & Christopher Robertson (Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, Arizona):

Sometimes modest changes spark huge debates. That has been the case with the decision by some law schools, led by the University of Arizona, to accept the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as an additional basis for law school admissions.

The openness to innovation at U.S. law schools has been spurred by the changing legal market and the dramatic downturn in applications for JD programs since 2010. But the addition of the GRE would have been a good idea at any time. For many decades, virtually every applicant to a U.S. JD program was required to take the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT.

Law is the only field of graduate or professional study whose regulator requires the use of a standardized test. The American Bar Association accredits U.S. law schools, and its Section on Legal Education requires that “a law school shall require each applicant for admission as a first-year JD degree student to take a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education.”

This standard doesn’t require use of the LSAT, but it does say that law schools using any other test must establish its rigor and value. That is exactly what the University of Arizona did, in partnership with Educational Testing Service (the nonprofit group that owns the GRE). It is what other law schools including Harvard, Northwestern, Georgetown and Columbia have done since.

The upsides include greater availability (the GRE is given all the time, pretty much everywhere; the LSAT was given in classroom settings four times a year, and has now moved to six), faster scoring, and assessment of additional types of knowledge, notably including quantitative reasoning. We were particularly interested to find that the quantitative section of the GRE had some of the strongest predictive power for success in law school, perhaps because legal reasoning is similarly rigorous and structured, notwithstanding its other humanistic aspects. ...

From the standpoint of law schools, the GRE radically diversifies and expands the pool of people who can be encouraged to consider law school. Around 100,000 people a year take the LSAT; around 700,000 a year take the GRE.

Many people take the GRE as juniors in college, when they are still shaping their future educational and professional plans. Law schools can now begin conversations with those diverse populations, including many STEAM students who might not have previously considered law.

Diversity is good. So is competition. ...

We hope the modest expansion to include the GRE as an option for admission to JD programs echoes and amplifies the larger and deeper debates about the legal profession, access to legal services, entry to practice, the provision of legal services through technology and increasingly by nonlawyers, and how expensive it is to become a lawyer.

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