Should the LSAT be required by law schools?

Hey there, future lawyers: how would you like to apply for law school without taking the LSAT?

Yeah, seriously. No more LSAT requirements for entering law school. That’s the recommendation being proposed by the American Bar Association.

A “substantial portion” of the ABA committee believes the rule should be repealed, Polden [Santa Clara University law school dean and the chairman of an ABA committee reviewing the standards] told the NLJ. He and officials from the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar pointed out that a small number of law schools already have been granted waivers by the ABA to admit some high-performing students from their own undergraduate institutions who haven’t taken the test.

This isn’t to say that law schools have to listen to the ABA. In fact, it may be because the ABA is listening to law schools that the proposal is even being batted around.

The refusal of the Massachusetts School of Law to require the LSAT was among several disputes that led to years of fighting with the ABA over its refusal to accredit the nontraditional law school. The ABA won the court battle, and the Massachusetts School of Law opted to operate without ABA recognition or an LSAT requirement. The Massachusetts School of Law requires all applicants to have interviews and to take an essay test it has developed, and argues that its method helps to identify talented students who might not have earned great LSAT scores.

That and because law schools put so much emphasis on the LSAT score. They want raise their ranking in the US News and World Report law school rankings, which the ABA has criticized for placing undue emphasis on LSAT scores.

What do you think? Is the LSAT anachronistic, or is it an appropriate filter to entry into the practice of law?

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3 responses to “Should the LSAT be required by law schools?

  1. I’d be curious to see an upper-tier law school experiment with making the LSAT optional, and then seeing whether it was able to find an adequate substitute through a combination of other methods which would yield comparable results in reputation judgments from judges, other lawyers and bar passage rates. The current rankings régime heavily disincentivizes such risks, although candidates could be new law schools such as UC Irvine. It’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition. They wouldn’t have alumni relations and philanthropy to worry about. But, could they attract strong candidates who would go on to be good lawyers? There’s a claim to a correlation between LSAT performance and law school performance, and law school’s rankings are based on peer and judge assessments and bar passage rates –all indicators of practical fitness to practice law. The opinions of judges are most useful here, because there’s a correlation between what they think of law school’s graduates and the law school’s LSAT ranges. We can thereby (however weakly) infer that the LSAT does have some bearing on one’s ability to practice law.
    Back to the experimentation w/ not requiring or even asking for LSAT scores, perhaps a more established, highly reputable law school would be a better candidate for so doing, because pre-Ls may already want to go there, and candidates who could be admitted to other comparable schools may still apply to the no-LSAT school, based on reputation.
    But what will employers think? I recall Vault.com top 25 law school rankings that was based solely on the aggregated rankings big law firms HR people. The results were interesting, in that not only was there variance in the orders of Vault’s and USNews’ rankings, but that some highly ranked schools didn’t make the top 25, and some non top 25, by necessity, did. The methodology may’ve been flawed in that only the top 5-10 percent of lower-ranked schools’ classes are interviewed, and that further, these kids may’ve been able to attend higher ranked schools if they so chose. Also, these were only big firms whose work assignments were probably repetitive, even menial, and which therefore don’t necessarily represent the breadth of work lawyers at smaller firms, corporate counsel and public interest lawyers do. Who knows.
    Back to the LSAT: I’ve read that LSAC claims a .4 correlation between the LSAT and first year grades, and that no other known, applicable measure is as strong as that. I learned a lot from the LSAT, and even though my test score was 5 points less than my average practice score, I know that may well have happened to numerous others whose practice scores were higher and lower than mine. I don’t like that, w/ the exception of the June test, it’s offered so dang early in the morning, and only four times yearly. But, everyone has to deal with the same pressures, and we definitely can’t pick the ideal time to *practice* law. I think the test is valuable and should be required because of the applicable skills it develops. But, I wish it weren’t given as much weight as it is. Is that borne from self-interest? Yes, but not exclusively. Many people could spend a day with the LSAT and answer every question correctly. It’s timed to determine one’s ability to think efficiently, both correctly and quickly, and that eventually determines one’s productivity as a lawyer. So yes, again, it’s incredibly valuable. But the purpose of legal education is to mold good lawyers. If there’s a lag between LSAT scores and good work, then it should be improved or supplemented. I don’t know what if any ideas are out there that show plausible the possibility to do either. I hope that wasn’t too much of a ramble, Dan, and that it was a semi-valuable contribution. It’s an interesting topic for sure!

  2. I know this is late, but I gotta say…I agree with Jeff.

    I started out with a plan to go to med school (MCAT), moved on to biomedical research (GRE), and am now moving into the realm of the patent lawyer (LSAT) and, I must say, I am by far most impressed by the LSAT. While the MCAT and the GRE felt like tests more or less unrelated to the work to be done in the practice of those fields, the LSAT felt like a true test of what it would take to make it in the practice of law. The abilities to critique arguments, think laterally, digest writings and read between the lines, all under the pressures of time and stress, these are the hallmarks of a good lawyer. I only wish the LSAT prep courses out there focused on teaching their student to think logically and analytically, as the LSAT is designed to test, rather than teaching them patterns and exploits that get them reasonable scores without teaching them the underlying abilities.

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