ABA votes to keep law school standardized test requirement

Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C.
Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • The ABA's House of Delegates has twice rejected proposals to drop the LSAT or other tests
  • The change could still go into effect without house approval

Feb 6 (Reuters) - A bid to end the American Bar Association's longstanding requirement that law schools use the LSAT or other standardized test in admissions has failed for a second time in six years.

The ABA's policy making body on Monday rejected a proposed change to its accreditation standards that would allow law schools to go "test optional" in 2025, following more than an hour of debate at the organization's midyear meeting in New Orleans.

The controversial proposal has divided the legal academy and the ABA itself, with law student diversity emerging as the primary point of contention.

Opponents warned that eliminating the LSAT requirement would make admissions offices more dependent on subjective measures such as the prestige of an applicant’s college, which they say could disadvantage minority applicants.

Those who wanted the rule removed argued that the LSAT is a barrier for minority would-be lawyers because on average they score below white test takers, and because law schools rely too heavily on those scores. A 2019 study found the average score for Black LSAT takers was 142, compared to 153 for white and Asian test takers.

The Law School Admission Council, which produces and administers the LSAT, lobbied against eliminating the testing requirement, arguing it helps aspiring lawyers assess their ability to succeed in law school before they pursue a costly degree. Most of the nonprofit Council's annual revenue comes from fees associated with the LSAT and law school applications.

"The [House of Delegates] vote will ensure that we have additional time for research into the actual impact of test-optional policies on students and diversity," LSAC president Kellye Testy said in a statement Monday.

The ABA’s Council of Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which handles law school accreditation, has been pushing to eliminate its LSAT requirement since 2017. In November it approved dropping the LSAT requirement, noting that no other professional school accreditor requires an admissions test. That left approval by the House of Delegates as the final step.

A similar proposal fell apart minutes before it was to be considered by the house in 2018, amid opposition from the Law School Admission Council and diversity advocates.

Monday's vote may not represent the end of the road for the test optional camp, however. ABA rules allow the House of Delegates to reject changes to the accreditation standards twice. After that, the legal education council may push the changes through without the house's approval.

Read more:

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

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

Reporting by Karen Sloan

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