ABA votes to end law schools' LSAT requirement, but not until 2025

Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • The change will go before the ABA's House of Delegates in February for final approval
  • The ABA received a flood of public comments for and against the measure

(Reuters) - The arm of the American Bar Association that accredits U.S. law schools on Friday voted to eliminate the longstanding requirement that schools use the Law School Admission Test or other standardized test when admitting students.

But under a last-minute revision, the rule change will not go into effect until the fall of 2025—giving law schools time to plan for new ways to admit students.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar overwhelmingly voted to do away with its testing mandate after years of debate and over the objections of nearly 60 law school deans who warned such a move could harm the goal of diversifying the legal profession.

The organizations that design both the LSAT and the GRE also urged the council on Friday not to drop the rule, warning that it could lead to law schools admitting students who are unlikely to succeed despite incurring debt to attend.

Councilmember Daniel Thies noted that no other professional school accreditors require the use of admissions test and that has not led to a “race to the bottom” to bring in unqualified students. Existing limits on student attrition and a requirement that at least 75% of a school’s graduates pass the bar exam offer further guardrails, he said.

“The goal is to open up innovation—finding other ways that might complement the current admissions processes to move us ahead in legal education on diversity and a host of other considerations,” Thies said.

The ABA standards currently require law schools to use a “valid and reliable test” in admissions decisions. For years, the only standardized test that automatically met that criteria was the LSAT, though the ABA in November 2021 added the GRE as an acceptable alternative.

Friday's decision is not final, however. The rule change will now go before the ABA’s House of Delegates, the organization’s policy making body, in February. The House has two opportunities to reject any proposed changes to the law school accreditation standards before they become final, meaning that the legal education council would have the final say.

The House of Delegates thwarted the same rule change in 2018. The council approved removing the testing requirement but withdrew it just moments before it was to be considered for final approval by the House of Delegates. Diversity advocates lobbied house members against the change and it became clear the measure was unlikely to pass.

Diversity has emerged as a central focus of the current testing debate, with the ABA receiving nearly 120 public comments on the matter. Some have called the LSAT a roadblock to building a diverse legal profession while others argued that it is an equalizer that helps underprivileged aspiring lawyers.

Without the testing requirement, admissions offices might place more weight on undergraduate grade-point averages, recommendations or the prestige of an applicants' undergraduate university — which are more subjective factors that could hurt the chances of diverse candidates, the 60 law deans warned in their letter to the ABA.

Read more:

ABA moves closer to ending LSAT requirement for law schools

Proposal to axe LSAT requirement spurs debate over test’s effects on diversity

Many law schools won't abandon LSAT even if they can, test-prep survey finds

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com