ABA will try yet again to eliminate LSAT rule

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. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • The ABA's policymaking body voted earlier this month to retain the standardized admission test requirement
  • But another arm of the organization wants schools to have more room to innovate

(Reuters) - The section of the American Bar Association that oversees law schools on Friday revived its push to let schools go test-optional.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar overwhelmingly voted to resubmit a controversial proposal to end by 2025 the longstanding requirement that schools use the Law School Admission Test or other standardized test when admitting new students.

That decision comes less than two weeks after the ABA’s policymaking body rejected that change amid warnings that law student diversity would suffer.

“It’s important that we move ahead,” said councilmember Daniel Thies on Friday, adding that the admission test rule will continue to inhibit innovation if left in place.

The proposal to end the admissions test rule will return to the ABA’s House of Delegates in August—the same group that voted it down on Feb. 6. The legal education council can enact the change even if the House rejects it for a second time because the U.S. Department of Education recognizes that council as the official accreditor of law schools.

It first attempted to get rid of the admission test rule in 2018 but backed off when it became clear that the House of Delegates would not go along with the plan.

The proposal has divided the legal academy with no clear consensus this time around.

Opponents, including a group of 60 law school deans and the Law School Admission Council, which designs and administers the LSAT, warned that eliminating the test requirement would make admissions offices more dependent on subjective measures such as the prestige of an applicant’s college. That could disadvantage minority applicants, they say.

Those who want to get rid of the test requirement have 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.

Law School Admission Council President Kellye Testy told the legal education council Friday that she was "disappointed" by the decision to move ahead with ending the admission test rule. Testy said she had hoped it would take more time to reconsider the change.

The Law School Admission Council offered an alternative proposal under which the ABA would enable law schools to admit up to 20% of their classes from applicants who did not submit a standardized test. In rejecting that proposal, Thies called the 20% figure “arbitrary” and said it would not break the “regulatory monopoly” that admissions test-makers enjoy in legal education.

Read more:

ABA votes to keep law school standardized test requirement

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

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

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