ABA Move Heats Up Controversy Over Law School Admissions Test

Prospective law students will still go through that dreaded rite of passage, taking the LSAT or a similar test, as part of the law school application process—at least for the foreseeable future.

In an unexpected move, the American Bar Association withdrew a resolution proposing to ax the law school admission testing requirement.

Proponents of the requirement say it promotes diversity and eliminating it risks undermining public confidence in the legal profession. Others say the Law School Admission Test was designed to identify great law students, but it doesn’t identify great future lawyers.

Getting rid of the admissions test requirement “would have been a mistake as it would open up the possibility of exploitation of unqualified students,” David Frakt, an attorney whose practice includes higher education, told Bloomberg Law.

There is so much grade inflation in high school and college that many students have an unrealistic view of their own academic abilities, which leads them to believe they can succeed in law school when, in reality, they don’t have the skills necessary to make it through law school and pass the bar, Frakt said.

For legal education reform advocate Kyle Fry, the ABA move was disappointing.

The resolution to eliminate a test requirement was a step “in the right direction” toward improving law school admissions standards, Fry told Bloomberg Law.

The current state of affairs “disincentivizes” people from coming up with other tests to determine both law school success and longer term success as an attorney, he said.

There might be other tests that could also, for example, decrease racial and gender bias, Fry said.

Gold Standard Under Scrutiny

The ABA withdrew Resolution 111D on Aug. 6 shortly before the House of Delegates was scheduled to vote on it at its annual meeting.

The resolution would have eliminated ABA Standard 503. Law schools must require every candidate for admission as a first-year student to take a “valid and reliable” admission test under Standard 503.

The LSAT is the gold standard for admission tests but schools can accept tests like the Graduate Record Examinations or Graduate Management Admission Test.

Twenty-five schools accept the GRE instead of the LSAT and at least one, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, accepts the GMAT from students applying solely to law school.

A number of schools accept the GMAT for students applying for a joint J.D./M.B.A. program.

The growing number of schools using the GRE or GMAT have to show, “if and when asked,” that “the score is on a test that is a ‘valid and reliable,’” Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, said in a statement.

This standard now remains in place, Currier said.

Unexpected Decision

There was little indication in the days leading up to the withdrawal that this would happen, Frakt said.

There were nevertheless indications that not everyone was on board. The ABA’s Young Lawyer’s Division on Aug. 3 voted against changing the test requirement.

The Minority Network, a group of law school admission professionals, sent a letter in March to the ABA’s legal education branch voicing its opposition to the resolution.

The LSAT provides objectivity in the admissions process and removing it would harm minority applicants, the letter said.

Access by underrepresented groups to the legal profession “can be directly traced to the implementation of standard objective measures of evaluation,” it said.

No Proof of Legal Skills

The LSAT was designed to predict how good of a law student you’ll be but there’s no proof it can predict how effective a lawyer you’ll be, Fry said.

Fry is co-chair of the Iowa Young Lawyers Division’s Innovation Task Force. The group collaborated with Law School Transparency on a report on legal education reform. LST provides information and analysis on legal education issues.

“Until the ABA makes it easier for schools to go on the open market for tests that better suit the goal of finding great future lawyers, schools will have an even more difficult time doing so,” he said.

But Frakt said getting rid of the admissions test requirement could ultimately hurt unqualified students.

“Standardized tests, especially the Law School Admission Test, are the most objective, most predictive tool that we have to determine likelihood of success in law school and on the bar exam,” Frakt explained.

Without the requirement, law schools could be tempted to encourage students to apply without bothering to take the LSAT, leading to students who don’t have the ability to make it through law school and pass the bar, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com