The Law School Admissions Test is a rite of passage for aspiring lawyers, but could go from mandatory to voluntary under proposed changes to the American Bar Association’s law school accreditation standards.
The committee reviewing the standards is leaning toward dropping the rule that law schools require J.D. applicants to take a “valid and reliable admission test,” chairman Donald Polden, dean of Santa Clara University School of Law, said on Wednesday.
“A substantial portion of the committee believes that provision should be repealed,” said Polden, noting that about 10 law schools already have waivers from the ABA allowing them to admit some students who haven’t taken the LSAT.
Much of the committee’s LSAT debate has focused on the proper role of the ABA in the regulation of law school admissions, said Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen, who sits on the standards review committee.
“I think an accrediting body ought to ensure that law schools are producing students who can enter the practice,” he said, noting that he personally is on the fence about the LSAT requirement. “Is taking a standardized test the only way to determine if someone should be able to go to law school? Schools ought to be able to decide how they want to admit students.”
Yellen said committee members have also questioned whether the ABA should be making rules that financially benefit the Law School Admission Council—the organization that administers the LSAT.
“It’s a wealthy institution,” Yellen said. “So many people take the LSAT. Why is the ABA ensuring its future success?”
The admission council has not taken a position on the committee’s proposal, said spokeswomen Wendy Margolis, but council President Daniel Bernstine did address the committee during a meeting last year. “It would be inappropriate and premature of us to comment before a decision has been made by the committee,” Margolis said.Dropping the LSAT requirement would be unlikely to prompt many schools to abandon the test. Both Polden and Yellen believe that most schools would continue to require the LSAT, in part because it is the most reliable way to measure applicants against each other and make merit-based financial aid decisions.
“I think most schools would keep it,” Yellen said. “It gives you an indication of how prepared people are for law school. On the other side, getting rid of the test would be yet another way for law schools to game the U.S. News rankings, but I don’t think the ABA should take U.S. News into account when making these decisions.”
The committee is still in the relatively early stages of discussing the LSAT. It is closer to finalizing its recommendations in several other areas, including so-called “student learning outcomes.” Law schools would be evaluated based on what students learn rather than input measures, such as the size of law libraries or faculty-to-student ratios. That matter was discussed during a two-day committee meeting last weekend.