ABA reverses experimental LSAT waiver

Well, so much for that idea …

One year after allowing high-achieving undergrads to apply to law school without taking the LSAT, the American Bar Association has reversed course and said, um, never-mind.

Only a few law schools were trying the concept and accepted such students for this year's class. However, that may have changed if the new admissions process had time to mature. Under it, undergrads could only apply to their graduate law schools. Law schools were limited to accepting just 10 percent of their enrolling class this way.

“We're a a little disappointed,” said Robert Harrison, associate dean of admissions and financial services for St. John's University School of Law, which admitted seven students this year through the new method. “We thought it would be an interesting experiment when it comes to judging other law school indicators besides the LSAT.”

Many law schools put a lot of weight into LSAT scores. But how would students with high LSAT scores fare against academically gifted students who did not take it? Would the LSAT still turn out to be the best predictor of success?

That question likely can't be answered now, though Harrison plans to track the seven students as they go through law school. But the sample size is not enough to probably draw any conclusions. The class has 226 students.

Harrison said there was no warning about the change in policy, which came in July from the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

The ABA adopted the change because a growing number of schools were seeking special dispensations to enroll some students who did not take the LSAT. Under this new policy, to qualify for consideration, a student had to have an undergrad GPA greater than 3.5 and scored in the 85th percentile or higher on either the SAT or the ACT.

Harrison, for one, did not find the process to be confusing, which is what one report claimed to had been a factor for the ABA's reversal. “I thought the criteria to be clear-cut.”

The ABA declined to discuss the reasons for the reversal, which doesn't take place until next year. So schools still can use the process for the Class of 2016.

If accepted this way, the student don't have to fork over $170 to take the LSAT, which tests reading comprehension, verbal reasoning and logic. It's no picnic. It takes a half day to take it. While the cost for it is not daunting, prep courses can be costly and time-consuming.

There was backlash to the ABA's idea. Stand-alone schools were upset because they couldn't participate, since they have no undergrad feeder-schools. Law school critics claimed it was an unsavory way to increase enrollment in these uncertain times. Taking the LSAT is not exactly on anyone's bucket list.

They also argued that prospective students could miss out on scholarships if they didn't take the LSAT. High scorers normally get wooed with financial help. Also, in this case, students were limited to going to their graduate law school and couldn't shop around.

SUNY Buffalo Law School also used the new method. Interim Dean James Gardner said standardized tests tend to be overvalued of predictors of performance, and plenty of other metrics to assess likelihood of success of prospective students exist.

The ABA's reversal is a bit ironic, he noted. “Colleges all across the country are making standardized testing optional,” he said. “There are other ways to measure student aptitude.”