Law deans question ABA taking role in entrance exam approval

A proposed requirement that accredited law schools use a valid and reliable entrance exam as determined by the American Bar Association has been called into question by a group of law school deans.

The American Bar Association recently proposed changes to its accreditation rule, Standard 503, which would require any non-LSAT entrance exam to undergo a review process to determine its validity.  As it currently stands, law schools are able to make that determination. If the proposed changes are put into effect, power to make that determination would shift to the ABA.

The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar held a public hearing on July 14 in Chicago to address the issue. Law school deans and a handful of stakeholders submitted a statements weighing in on the issue.

“Under the proposed standard, every school would be prohibited from using any test other than the LSAT unless and until the Council—at some unknown time and using some unknown process—decides to validate a different test,” one statement reads. “It would become extremely difficult for law schools to innovate in admissions and testing under the proposed standard.”

Six law school deans, including Erwin Chemerinsky of University of California Berkeley School of Law, Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Blake Morant of the George Washington University Law School, signed the statement.

The deans criticized the use of the LSAT and other entrance exams as reliable admission standards. The weight of LSAT scores given by national law school ranking systems, they argue, inhibits the ability of law schools to admit students with virtually indistinguishable test scores (in predictive terms) of admitted students for fear of damaging their rankings.

“There are many and better ways other than a standardized test to determine whether a law school believes an applicant can succeed in law school and pass the bar,” the statement reads. “That is why most law schools consider a range of factors.”

“Also, we do not believe that the median or range of test scores of admitted students is helpful for students deciding where to attend school,” the deans’ statement continued.

David Yassky, Dean and Professor at Pace University School of Law, urged the Council to reject the proposed revision to Standard 503.  LSAT scores alone do not provide enough information to adequately evaluate applicants, he wrote, even though it is a highly valuable source of information about applicant.

“Whether or not this proposal is adopted, I expect that many, if not all law schools will continue to rely in part on the LSAT for evaluating the vast majority, if not all, applicants,” Yassky wrote.

Not all respondents were in opposition to the proposed change. The Law School Admission Council, which develops and administers the LSAT, supports the revised language of the requirement.  The LSAT is based on research and is validated continuously, LSAC wrote in a statement to the Council.

“Today’s climate for legal education demands more commitment to the quality, diversity and fairness the LSAT provides, not less,” the statement reads.

“[M]any law schools are experiencing economic stress as they adjust to changes in admission and employment markets stemming from structural change in the profession as well as from continuing challenges to the rule of law in society,” the LSAC statement continues. “It is tempting during times of stress to seek to reduce standards of quality, and often these reductions in standards come forward as arguments for innovation and deregulation.”

Already Harvard Law School and University of Arizona College of Law are using the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, as an alternative to the LSAT. According to a statement submitted by Harvard Law, the GRE is just as good as the LSAT as a predictor for first-year grades. In fact, a statistical study shows that when GRE scores are considered in conjunction with undergraduate GPAs, the GRE is a stronger predictor than the LSAT.

Educational Testing Services, which administers the GRE, also submitted a statement to the Council prior to the hearing. If the Council is going to determine the validity of law school entrance exams, then the LSAT should be subject to the same review process, the statement says.

“What was valid and reliable just a few years ago might not be valid and reliable today, or at least not to the same extent,” the ETS statement reads. “As currently worded, the proposed revisions apply to every test proposed to be used in law school admissions except for the LSAT.”

A Kaplan Test Prep Survey shows that law school responses to the proposed revisions to Standard 503 are varied. Of the 119 law schools polled, 61 percent said that the ABA should make a definitive statement as to whether the GRE is a permissible alternative to the LSAT.

“They [the ABA] need to pick a side,” said one admission officer in response to the survey. “I feel the process should be fairly unified. I want the ABA to be more definitive so we are playing from the same book.

Other law school administrators are not so sure that ABA involvement is a necessarily a good thing. Twenty-seven percent of law schools said that the ABA should not issue a blanket statement regarding the validity of the GRE in admissions.

An admission officer opposed to further ABA involvement stated, “They [the ABA] are notorious for making decisions in a vacuum without getting input from law schools. They don’t have a good understanding of what they are regulating.”