Paul L. Caron

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Can The GRE Cure What Ails Law Schools?, Can the GRE Cure What Ails Law Schools?:

As more law schools accept a new admissions test from aspiring law students, debate about their motives and whether they’ll meet their goals of diversifying the applicant pool has swirled behind the scenes.

Law deans hope to recruit a new type of law student by accepting applications that use Graduate Record Examination scores, rather than the traditional Law School Admission Test. Law schools, eyeing the extremely large group of GRE test takers, have seen a potential to improve not only the gender, racial and ethnic mix of law students, but also broader metrics such as socioeconomic status, educational backgrounds and professional experience. Particularly, law schools, which have seen the number of applicants decline and LSAT scores fall, want students who have studied or had careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a cohort that statistically has been shown to perform well in legal education.

Meanwhile, critics of the GRE cast doubts about whether the test is capable of increasing diversity along racial and ethnic lines, and question whether schools are trying to fill seats while gaming the law school ranking system.

Because the trend of law schools accepting the GRE is new, the idea that it can diversify the pool of law students is just a promise—there’s no hard data to show it will come true. However, extensive information about the people who take the GRE is available, including their undergraduate majors and their racial, ethnic and gender attributes.

An analysis of the data provides a window into why law school deans are pinning their hopes on the GRE to boost diversity and the sheer number of applicants, at a time when the total number of people applying to American Bar Association-accredited law schools has plunged by about 61 percent in the last decade, according to the Law School Admission Council’s comparable data. ...

The lack of STEM diversity among current law school applicants taking the LSAT is profound, and the available data backs up law schools’ hopes that using the GRE can help them recruit more of those students.

STEM majors would do very well in law school, according to an analysis published this year by Pepperdine University School of Law professor Robert Anderson. He found that STEM students on average score 160 or higher on the LSAT.

That’s promising information considering that, overall, [applicants with] LSAT scores of more than 160 have dropped [45] percent since 2010, according to research by Pepperdine’s dean, Paul Caron. Meanwhile, the average score on the Multistate Bar Exam in February hit the lowest point since the exam was first administered in 1972.

But STEM students don’t seem much interested in law school, if judging by the dismal percentages who actually apply. The Law School Admission Council’s data for 2016-17 shows that most law school applicants had undergraduate majors in three main categories. Of the 66,700 total applicants, 47 percent studied in the social sciences and helping professions category, including such majors as political science, psychology and criminal justice. The second-most-popular category, comprising 23 percent of applicants, was arts and humanities, which includes the majors of English, philosophy and communications. Looking at STEM majors, only 4 percent, or 2,900, of the applicants studied natural sciences, which includes such things as biology, environmental sciences and mathematics. Only 1 percent—fewer than 1,000—studied engineering and 0.5 percent studied computer science. ...

Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, said in an email that the best way to boost diversity is for a school to use the LSAT, but not rely too heavily on LSAT scores.

“There are already far more students of color applying to law school with the LSAT than schools are admitting,” Testy said. “This may be due to the influence of U.S. News and schools actually giving outsized weight to LSAT and GPA in an effort to manage those rankings.” ...

One concern about the GRE is how it will affect the all-important law school rankings on U.S. News & World Report.

Testy has said in the past that law schools using the GRE are hoping to manipulate their rankingsbecause they can accept GRE students but avoid the requirement to report those new students’ LSAT scores to U.S. News.

However, U.S. News has already reacted to law schools accepting the GRE. The publication’s current law school rankings, released in March, were the first to consider both LSAT and GRE scores.

“U.S. News will continue to factor both scores into the rankings in the future. Our methodology is designed to ensure that if a school admits and enrolls students with GREs, those scores, plus the LSAT scores, are both counted in the law school rankings,” according to a statement by Robert Morse, chief data strategist.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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"I predict that we will see a significant increase in the wage premium conferred by a JD because of this diversity."

Good, because the NALP median starting salary is still down >20% in real dollars since 2008.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 2, 2017 11:11:15 PM

"Law school is already the most rigorous graduate education available in the U.S. Only the brightest thinkers are recruited to train students."

[rolls eyes] I guess that means the students at Cooley and Florida Coastal can ace graduate computer science, astrophysics, mechanical engineering programs, etc. As for the profs being "the brightest thinkers," give me a break. With the possible exception of the unwashed masses of MBA programs, law schools are about the least rigorous graduate program in the academy, and the law professors they produce aren't writing dissertations and generally have 0-2 years' experience practicing the law they now teach. One struggles to think of another graduate program wherein the default requirements are so lax.

Protip: when selling open access programs like bottom-tier law schools, hyperbole just cuts against you.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 2, 2017 11:10:23 PM

Law schools are not trying to game the system. Rather, the schools are trying to improve the educational experience of students. Students clearly get a better education when they study in a diverse setting. Groups can problem solve better when the members of that group have a variety of perspectives based on their background. But diversity goes beyond ensuring that a cohort is well represented by people of color or people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Schools also look for students with unique life experiences and interests. By accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, law schools will be able to diversify their classes with STEM majors and other unique individuals.

Law school is already the most rigorous graduate education available in the U.S. Only the brightest thinkers are recruited to train students. Law school graduates have the critical thinking skills to enter almost any field and make an impact. There is a substantial body of research that proves the impact that a legal education can have on an individual. Numerous studies have concluded that law school graduates earn a substantial wage premium over graduates with a terminal bachelor’s degree.

If more law schools accept the GRE and diversify their student body, these schools will achieve a critical mass of diversity. Law school graduates will benefit greatly from the diversity of perspectives in their class. I predict that we will see a significant increase in the wage premium conferred by a JD because of this diversity.

Posted by: Wage Premium | Dec 2, 2017 7:19:22 AM