Paul L. Caron

Monday, May 23, 2022

ABA Council Votes To Advance Proposal Permitting Law Schools To Go Test Optional. What Are The Implications Of Admitting Students Who Don't Take The LSAT Or GRE?

Following up on my previous post, NY Times: ABA May Eliminate Standardized Tests For Law School Admissions:  Wall Street Journal, No LSAT Required? Law School Admissions Tests Could Be Optional Under New Proposal:

ABA Legal Ed (2021)For decades, budding law students have had to stare down the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, a rigorous test of abilities in logic, analytical reasoning and reading comprehension.

Those days might be coming to an end.

An American Bar Association panel that accredits law schools issued a proposal Friday to make standardized tests optional for admission, a move that would follow a trend seen in undergraduate admissions offices and give schools more flexibility in how they select law students.

The accrediting council voted overwhelmingly to seek public comment on the proposal, which would eliminate the mandatory use of tests such as the LSAT or the GRE, which has been allowed at some schools in recent years.

Only one person on the 21-member body voted against advancing the proposal.

Any final approval of the policy change would likely be many months away—at the earliest, affecting students who enroll in the fall of 2023. ...

The vote followed a recommendation from an ABA committee last month that called for eliminating the mandate that every law school require applicants to take a “valid and reliable” exam.

Even if mandatory admissions tests are dropped, at least some schools likely will still choose to consider them in some capacity. “This is about discretion and flexibility,” said Daniel Rodriguez, former dean of Northwestern University Law School. “Well-meaning, well-intentioned law schools will continue to look at tests as part of a holistic admissions process.” ...

Kellye Testy, president and chief executive of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, said schools already can determine what weight to give the tests and that diversity is best promoted if the LSAT is used as one factor in a broader admissions process.

“Without the test scores you reward privilege more than potential,” Ms. Testy said. Other factors, such as which university a candidate attended or who recommends an applicant, are more prone to bias, she said. ...

David Yellen, the departing CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, said a high-court ruling making all race-based admissions decisions unconstitutional would give schools an incentive to avoid testing requirements.

“It’s known beyond any dispute that some groups are disadvantaged by standardized tests,” said Mr. Yellen, the incoming dean of the University of Miami School of Law. “A test requirement combined with a ban on race-conscious admissions could be disastrous to having more diverse student bodies.”

ABA Journal, ABA Legal Ed Council Seeks Comment on Proposed Revision to Law School Admissions Test Requirement:

There were also concerns that eliminating law school entrance exams could harm diversity.

During the May 20 meeting, Daniel Thies, a Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, lawyer in private practice who co-chairs the committee suggesting the revisions, claimed that Standards 205 and 206, both of which address diversity, could address those concerns.

“There are lot of other guardrails in place, including our own standards, so that law schools will not allow the elimination of the (admissions) test to threaten diversity,” he said.

Derek Muller (Iowa), What Happens If the ABA Ends the Requirement That Law Schools Have an Admissions Test? Maybe Less Than You Think:

I think inertia will keep many law schools using not just standardized tests but the LSAT. ...

First, the most significant barrier to prevent a “race to the bottom” in law school admissions: the bar exam. As it is, schools must demonstrate an ultimate bar passage rate of 75% within two years of graduating. That itself is a major barrier for dropping too low. Even there, many schools do not like an overly-low first-time passage rate, and student take note of first-time bar passage rates, which have increased importance in the USNWR rankings. ...

Second, a less obvious barrier is legal employment. That’s a tail-end problem for inability to pass the bar exam. But it’s also an independent concern among, say, large law firms or federal judges to choose from graduates with the highest legal ability. ... 

Third, for admissions decisions of prospective students, there’s a risk about how to evaluate GPAs. For instance, it’s well known that many humanities majors applying to law school have disproportionately higher GPAs than their LSAT scores suggest; and that hard sciences majors have disproportionately lower GPAs than their LSAT scores suggest. ...

Fourth, who benefits? At the outset, it’s worth noting that all schools will still indicate a willingness to accept the LSAT, and for law students interested in the broadest swath of application interest are still going to take the LSAT. Additionally, it’s likely that schools will continue to seek to attract high-quality applications with merit-based scholarships, and LSAT (or GRE) scores can demonstrate that. ...

Finally, what about USNWR? Unless many schools change, it seems unlikely that USNWR would drop using LSAT and GRE as a metric. ... 

In short, it’s quite possible that we’ll see a number of innovative developments from law schools on the horizon if the proposal goes through. That said, I think there are major barriers to dramatic change in the short term, with a concession that changes in other circumstances (including the bar exam, improved undergraduate or pipeline programs, and USNWR) could make this more significant in the future.

Update:  Title of post changed to correct error in original title.

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