The Law School Admission Test, the long-held standard for admission to most American law schools, may no longer be required in a couple of years.
A subcommittee of the American Bar Association’s Standards Review Committee is considering making usage of the test voluntary for its member schools instead of mandatory.
Donald J. Polden, chairman of the ABA’s Standards Review Committee, said the subcommittee is proposing eliminating the Standard 503 requirement that calls for each applicant “to take a valid and reliable admission test” to assist the school in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing law school.
“To date, there is only one national exam,” Polden said. “The LSAT is really the only test that is capable of being used, although another test could be used if it was found to be valid and reliable. The background is intended to ensure law schools do not admit students that the law school doesn’t have a reasonable basis to believe [could] be successful in law school and be admitted to the practice of law.”
He said the viewpoint of subcommittee members is that eliminating the requirement will permit greater admission flexibility and create programs that would encourage greater diversity.
“I also think there will be greater experimentation in some programs that seek to admit students who are underachieving or under-performing on tests, but otherwise would be good prospects,” Polden said.
In addition, he said dropping the requirement would follow what many liberal arts undergraduate programs are doing in making the SATs optional, and is being considered partially based on the fact that the Consultant on Legal Education office has permitted waivers in limited circumstances.
Lillie V. Wiley-Upshaw, vice dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at the University at Buffalo Law School, said she finds it interesting that the ABA is looking at the issue now when a couple of years ago Buffalo was told a waiver program it had did not meet ABA standards in terms of evaluating students.
She said the school implemented a Guaranteed Admission Program for college students interested in law school who met specific requirements, including having certain SAT scores, maintaining at least a 3.7 undergraduate grade-point average and completing requirements for a bachelor’s degree.
Wiley-Upshaw said the ABA, as part of its standard evaluating procedure, said the program was not compliant because there was no equivalent test to measure the same set of skills as the LSAT.
She said Buffalo quit offering the program, but is aware of the current ABA considerations.
“We haven’t really sat down and discussed it in depth at this time,” Wiley-Upshaw said. “They’re still anticipating that many schools would ultimately continue. We haven’t really decided on which side of this conversation we sit. We’ll be following the conservation closely.”
She said Buffalo concentrates more on the day-to-day work with its current students and those it plans to enroll next year.
Wiley-Upshaw said the LSAT is a helpful evaluation tool when looking at an applicant’s record, but that Buffalo’s philosophy includes a holistic review that takes into consideration life experience and how that would be helpful in the understanding and application of legal issues.
She said Buffalo considers analytical reasoning and the quality of an applicant’s writing which are also measured through the LSAT, but that the school also looks at personal writing which is included in the application and assesses whether an applicant has insight and skills as a critical reader and critical thinker.
“I think if you rely solely on the LSAT, you’re kind of missing the other qualities,” Wiley-Upshaw said. “We know there are other things that are important. That doesn’t diminish that the LSAT is an important part of the process. There are still many other indicators of a person’s potential for law school study and future success.”
Polden said the question on test requirements arose during a required routine review of accreditation standards. He said the subcommittee will complete its revisions of Chapter 5 and put out a discussion draft. His committee will then look at all of the standards included in the chapter.
“The full committee has not acted on Chapter 5 yet,” he said. “We’ll probably do so at our summer meeting in July.”
Polden said at that point, any recommended changes will be sent to the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the national law school accrediting agency as recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, which would probably review it in the fall or winter.
He said the council could sent it back, saying it doesn’t like the changes, but that it is more likely to open a period of public comment during which his committee would conduct at least one public hearing. Written comments would also be welcome.
“Our committee then would take those comments into account and send to the council a final set of recommendations,” Polden said, noting it will probably be at least a year before that happens.
Polden said the counter arguments to the proposal are concerns that law schools would waive the requirement to accept money from students who are not likely to complete the program and enter the practice of law.
Other questions have arisen about the waivers and if they are being granted, maybe it is not so absolute that everybody has to have an LSAT.
“Our current policy requires a school to require a score, but it doesn’t instruct the school to consider the score,” Polden said. “If you require the score, but don’t require the school to take it into account, why require the score in the first place?”
Another concern is national rankings and full disclosure. Polden said right now when students look at a school’s median, they know it is based on 100 percent of the admitted students having taken the LSAT. But, if the test is not used for all students, will the median reflect that only a percentage of students took the test?
He said students may also not report their scores if they are lower than the median of the schools they are considering. He suggested the Law School Admission Council could issue reports clarifying what is included. The Law School Admission Council is a non-profit organization that administers the LSAT and offers a variety of law school-preparation materials.
“The bottom line is about some disclosure issues that I think will occur that have not been worked through and probably should be before the rule is eliminated,” Polden said. “The counter arguments, personally I think, are very compelling. I think, as a practical matter, most law schools will continue to require the LSAT so that law schools will have another data point to consider.”
Polden said the ABA has been working with LSAC leaders whom he said have been very candid and helpful about what the council does and the possible implications if the test requirement is eliminated.
“We are not commenting until the ABA actually makes a decision,” said LSAC Director of Communications Wendy Margolis. “It’s entirely up to the ABA to decide what to require of their members and we’ll comment when we hear what it’s going to be.”