Judgment day looms for ABA’s hotly debated LSAT 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 will decide Monday whether to eliminate its law school admissions test requirement
  • A previous push to abandon the LSAT fell apart at the last minute

(Reuters) - The American Bar Association’s policy-making body is slated on Monday to decide whether to drop the longstanding requirement that law schools use the Law School Admission Test or another standardized test when admitting students.

If the ABA’s House of Delegates approves the change when it meets next week in New Orleans, law schools will be fully “test optional”—though not until the fall of 2025.

The ABA, which accredits law schools, has considered eliminating the LSAT requirement since at least 2011. ABA leaders have said law schools should have more flexibility, noting that other graduate-level accrediting bodies require schools to use a standardized admission test.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar preliminarily approved the rule change in November, adding a last-minute provision that delays implementation until 2025 to give schools time to prepare. Approval by the House of Delegates is the final step.

But the LSAT requirement has sharply divided the legal academy, with opponents and proponents both evoking law student diversity to back their positions. A similar measure to end the testing requirement fell apart minutes before it was to be considered by the House of Delegates in 2018, amid opposition from legal diversity advocates and the Law School Admission Council, which designs and administers the LSAT.

Those who oppose the change, including many law school deans, have warned that eliminating the LSAT requirement will make admissions decisions more dependent on undergraduate grade-point averages and subjective measures such as the prestige of an applicant’s college, which they say could disadvantage minority applicants.

Those who want the rule removed argue 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 diversity debate has taken on new urgency as the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to strike down affirmative action at colleges and universities across the country after hearing several challenges to race-conscious admissions policies.

The current ABA standards 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.

The Law School Admission Council has lobbied against eliminating the LSAT 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.

Mark Murray, the Council’s public affairs liaison, said many people plan to speak against eliminating the LSAT requirement when the House of Delegates meets.

“People are concerned that test-optional will undermine the progress we are making in diversity, and also that there’s not enough evidence to justify such a significant policy change,” he said.

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

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

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