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

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
  • A proposal to drop the ABA's admission test requirement reveals deep divisions within legal academy
  • A decision could come in November

(Reuters) - The Law School Admissions Test is either a major roadblock to building a diverse legal profession, or an equalizer that helps underprivileged aspiring lawyers, according to varied feedback on a proposal to let schools make the LSAT and other standardized admissions exams optional.

The American Bar Association’s legal education arm has received nearly 50 public comments on its proposed elimination of the testing requirement. The LSAT and the GRE are the only two exams explicitly accepted under the rule.

The public comment period ends Thursday and the responses reveal deep divisions in how people view the LSAT and the role it plays.

The comments appear evenly split between those who want to retain the testing requirement and those who want it eliminated. The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is expected to consider the proposal when it meets in November.

Proponents of the rule change cited the $200 price of the LSAT and additional prep costs; the difficulty examinees with conditions such as ADHD have faced on the timed test; and their belief that the LSAT shuts out large numbers of diverse would-be lawyers.

Researchers have identified significant disparities in LSAT scores across racial groups. A 2019 study found the average score for Black LSAT takers was 142 out of a possible 180, compared to 153 for white and Asian test takers.

Eliminating the testing standard would give schools the flexibility to experiment with new ways to identify applicants with the potential to become good lawyers, according to a letter submitted by the law deans at the University of Arizona and Southern University.

In a letter opposing the change, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) said racial gaps in test scores are not the result of bias within the LSAT, which is designed to predict first-year grades, but rather reflect larger racial disparities within the education system.

LSAC, which designs and administers the test, wrote that the LSAT functions as a consumer protection safeguard for applicants who might not be ready to handle the rigors of law school, but could incur heavy debt attending.

The council is urging the ABA to retain the test requirement, but to allow schools more leeway to experiment with alternatives.

A letter signed by admissions deans and other administrators from 47 law schools warned that in the absence of standardized test scores, schools would rely more heavily on non-standardized measures.

They said these include undergraduate grade-point averages, perceived prestige of a candidate’s undergraduate institution, past internships and the stature of the candidate’s recommenders. Each of these factors may disadvantage diverse applicants by increasing the potential for bias against them, the letter said.

Read more:

End of the LSAT? Law school entry test is on the chopping block again

ABA council seeks views on the fate of law school admissions tests

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