This week, the Law School Admissions Council announced it would not oust the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law from its membership.
In February, Arizona became the first law school to accept applicants who took the GRE rather than the LSAT. That policy drew criticism from those who said the LSAT is more reliable indicator for predicting law school success.
Marc L. Miller, dean of the law school, answered a range of questions via email. Below is a transcript of the exchange.
Big Law Business: Tell us a bit about the decision to accept students who took the GRE.
Miller: At Arizona Law, one of our longstanding goals is to improve access to legal education for those we believe will find success and contribute to the profession.
We believe that law schools and the legal profession need a greater number of high-quality applicants with the widest range of life, educational, and professional backgrounds. Having only one admissions test as an access point automatically reduces that number and puts us out of line with every other profession and academic discipline, none of whose regulators require any standardized test for admission, much less a single test.
The ABA standard that regulates admissions testing doesn’t say that law schools must use the LSAT. It says law schools must use a valid and reliable standardized test “in assessing an applicant’s capability to satisfactorily complete the school’s program of legal education.” We participated in a study with Educational Testing Service (ETS) that proved just that, and therefore made the decision to accept the GRE or the LSAT as an admissions test for our JD program.
These tests have been given far too much weight in admissions decisions.
Big Law Business: Why is the LSAT not necessarily the most reliable metric for predicting law school success?
Miller: The LSAT has some predictive power regarding first-year law school grades, but nobody claims that it is a predictor of success in law school or, more fundamentally, a predictor of success as an attorney. Any valid and reliable test including (but not limited to) the LSAT and the GRE can be a useful guide for schools and students. But as colleges throughout the country have now widely recognized, these tests have been given far too much weight in admissions decisions and needs to be used in proper context rather than elevated above all else.
For law school admissions, we continue to analyze applicants using a number of tools, including undergraduate GPA, personal statement, references, leadership and work experience, military and other public service, and standardized test scores to determine if we think they will do well in law school, pass the bar exam, and succeed in the profession. Now we have an additional and widely available option for one of those tools.
Big Law Business: Could you comment on the support from nearly 150 deans signing a letter backing Arizona’s effort to broaden its applicant pool by accepting those who had taken only the GRE?
Miller: We were delighted with and deeply grateful for the support from law school deans throughout the country. I hope that reflects not only the care and precision in opening JD admissions to GRE takers, but our willingness to share the study and our methods and approach and data with anyone and everyone. We think this initiative will benefit all of legal education and the legal profession.
We live in a time of dramatic change for legal education and the legal profession
Big Law Business: Does the support from other colleges around the nation indicate other colleges should also expand their applicant pool?
Miller: I hope that the GRE would be generalized for all U.S. law schools that want to use it in the shortest possible time. More generally I think the support indicates that legal education is ready for and enthusiastic about innovation and that people see the value in encouraging a legal education and career to those who may not have previously considered it, but who can be very successful. We live in a time of dramatic change for legal education and the legal profession, and in our view that change will continue and speed up.
Big Law Business: What do you make of the Law School Admission Council’s President Daniel O. Bernstine’s letter indicating the ABA will review a study that Arizona had conducted to assure the GRE’s reliability are in fact a predictor of law school success.
Miller: We’ve been in touch with the ABA regularly since announcing our news. We welcome review of the study, and all additional research.
The ETS team who conducted the study and analyzed the data has decades of experience, and the study is a very thorough and careful analysis.
Big Law Business: Do you have concerns the ABA’s analysis of the study may impact future accreditation?
Miller: We believe we have operated completely within the ABA guidelines at every step of this initiative, and therefore are confident that our standing is secure.
Big Law Business: Any closing thoughts?
Miller: We look forward to working with LSAC, the ABA, state bars, our colleagues at law schools around the country, and anyone else who is interested in the state of legal education and the profession.
We hope this small step opens the door to new ideas and significant changes regarding who we train in the law. We also hope it is one small part of the solution to the much deeper and more complex question of how we create a profession that reflects the great diversity of background and experience in our society, and how we provide legal services to all who need them.