Paul L. Caron

Friday, June 7, 2019

'Adversity' In Law School Admissions?

LSAT (2017), 'Adversity' In Law School Admissions?:

The College Board made headlines last month when it unveiled plans for a new “adversity score” it would calculate for each SAT taker—a metric intended to help colleges gauge the challenges their applicants have encountered in their lives. Officials haven’t unveiled exactly how the score will be calculated, but it will take into account factors such as the percentage of students in the applicant’s high school who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and the average income in the test taker’s zip code. (It won’t factor in race). The adversity scores will be reported separately from SAT scores, and college and university admissions offices will be free to use or not use them in their decision making.

The announcement caused a stir and touched off quite a bit of criticism. This got me wondering whether a similar score could be created for the LSAT, as law schools have long struggled to improve the racial and socio-economic diversity of their student bodies. So I called up Aaron Taylor, the executive director of AccessLex Center for Legal Education Access. Taylor has spent years researching issues of diversity and access within legal education, so I was particularly interested in his thoughts on whether an “adversity score” could work in the law school context. ...

Taylor said he thinks it’s entirely possible for law schools to use an adversity score in their admissions decisions. In fact, he wrote a law journal article based on that premise five years ago [Reimaging Merit as Achievement, 44 N.M. L. Rev. 1 (2014)]. But he doesn’t want that score issued by the Law School Admission Council in conjunction with the LSAT. Rather, he would like to see individual law schools create their own questionnaires to help them determine how much adversity each applicant has encountered. That would offer a more accurate picture than what the College Board plans to do with its adversity score, he said. ...

I wanted to know why Taylor felt so strongly that schools themselves should determine their own adversity scores, rather than the LSAC. He said it had to do with buy-in. If schools come up with their own questionnaires that emphasize what’s important to them, they’re more likely to take the metric into account when it comes down to selecting applicants. A one-size-fits all metric delivered by the LSAC would be easier to ignore, he said. Legal education would likely settle on some broad best practices for developing these adversity questionnaires, but the questionnaires themselves would be campus specific. ...

The rub, as I see it, is how much weight admissions offices would assign to these hypothetical adversity scores in a landscape over which the U.S. News & World Report ranking looms large. Would admissions offices be willing to take on more students with lower LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs—risking a drop in the rankings—if their backgrounds indicate that they have overcome plenty of obstacles to graduate from college? Would they take more chances on groups of students who traditionally have demonstrated grit and determination? That is the million-dollar question.

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Grit and determination are likely to lead to stronger academic results. So, if the purpose of an adversity score is to identify talent that hasn't had a chance to shine because of adverse circumstances, a high adversity index will predict law school success, which will be reflected in higher bar pass rate, which will have a positive effect on US News Rankings.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jun 7, 2019 11:35:49 AM

With the newly imposed bar passage standards of the ABA, the issue is "who can get through school, pass the bar exam and allow law schools continue to operate in compliance."

Posted by: Tom N. | Jun 7, 2019 8:10:22 AM

The adversity comes into play in the form of the brutal, ancient pedigree-based caste system which dictates a lawyer's career from the first to the last.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 7, 2019 7:31:45 AM