The American Bar Association decides to ditch law-school requirements for standardized tests

November 20, 2022 • 1:45 pm

Up until now, all accredited law schools in America required nearly every entering student to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which, according to Wikipedia, “is designed to assess reading comprehension as well as logical and verbal reasoning proficiency.” In some cases, however, a student can take the Graduate Record Examination General Test (GRE), which covers verbal reasoning, quantitative reason, and writing (an essay). A recent Princeton Review site says this:

The current admission standards for ABA-accredited law schools state that no more than 10% of an entering class may be admitted without LSAT scores , and those students must meet specific academic requirements, be undergraduates at same institution as the law school, and/or be pursuing a dual degree in another discipline. Law schools may apply for a variance from these standards by demonstrating that another test (in this case, the GRE) is a valid predictor of law students’ performance at that institution. The ABA, however, is currently considering changes to the LSAT score admission standard.

And yes, the ABA has changed these standards: they’ve eliminated them. Click on the screenshot below to read the Reuters article about the deep-sixing of all mandatorytests:

Here’s the whole article, with the motivation bolded by me:

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.

In other words, law schools are going to a mushier “holistic” standard of evaluation in an effort to increase diversity, which apparently was too low when the GRE or LSAT were required. So much for the claim that diversity and merit (at least as judged by exams) are are absolutely compatible. That is a fiction, but an ideologically comforting fiction.

Now it’s possible that law schools may still require either test for admission, but it’s no longer a mandatory requirement for a law school to be accredited.

I wonder what they’ll replace the tests with? Essays? Assessments of “personality”? Is there any downside to using other standards but keeping the standardized tests as well?

All over the country we see the elimination of standardized tests for admission to colleges, graduate schools, or professional schools. Since it’s the one measure on which everybody competes with everybody else on the same set of questions, I don’t think doing away with such metrics is a good things. Next test circling the drain: the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

22 thoughts on “The American Bar Association decides to ditch law-school requirements for standardized tests

  1. Is it not inevitable that informed and rational citizens will begin to question the entire process of evaluating candidates and of bestowing credentials, and thus the legitimacy of the basis of “meritocracy” itself”?

  2. We’ll, looks like in the near future we’ll have under qualified lawyers suing under qualified doctors

  3. Clearly, the reason for eliminating metrics is to eliminate the possibility of comparing applicants against a standard. That clears the way to use any criteria desired, providing schools with the flexibility to do what they want. Sadly, what this means is that merit will only come to the fore *after* graduation. Good lawyers will win cases; bad lawyers will lose. Once the MCATs go away, the same will apply to doctors. Clients (and, eventually, patients) will suffer.

    1. They should be consistent, of course, and remove the need to pass the Bar examination before entering practice. I mean, if it’s wrong to sort entrants to law school by merit, it must also be wrong to do the same as they enter the profession. Somehow, I suspect they will say no to that idea, and that’s when we all realise this is just a cynical show of wokeness, being paid for by students taking on thousands of dollars of debt in order to drop out of a course they can’t complete.

  4. As usual, Jerry, I can find nothing contrary in your comments. You are spot on.
    Watering down education, at all levels, is an oxymoron. A race to the bottom is exactly what it is.

    1. I’m no law-school admissions maven. But I know that, way back in the day, there was a fairly strong correlation between LSAT scores and law school success, and, to my knowledge, that’s still the case. (Bragging about one’s LSAT score wasn’t the done thing in law school, but I recall from what I heard through fellow students anecdotally that there seemed to be a strong correlation between a high LSAT score and making law review after 1L.)

      Notwithstanding the change in the ABA’s accreditation standards, I’d be surprised if law schools (particularly selective law schools) stopped requiring the LSAT or using it as an admissions criterion (or as a criterion for decisions on things like granting scholarships).

  5. Somebody help me out here. My understanding is that graduating from law school DOES NOT qualify one to practice law. It is also necessary to pass the bar exam in the state one wishes to practice. Failure on that exam means no license. I think that is the concern of the law school Deans referenced in the story here, that they may be admitting students who will be unable to pass the bar exam, in the meanwhile going into debt. Unless the state bar associations that administer the bar exams lower the standards to pass, which is not addressed in the story, the concern of the Deans seems justified. Please correct me if this isn’t how it works.

    1. You’re right, graduating from law school does not qualify a person to practice law. Typically, graduating from an accredited law school allows a person to take any state bar exam, and passing that exam is the qualification to practice law in that state (so, as an example, you don’t need to go to a California law school to take the California bar exam, but you do need to pass the California bar exam to practice law in California). As I recall, at least one state, maybe a few, allows graduates of its state law school to practice law without the need to take the state bar exam, but that’s an exception. There is also a certain amount of reciprocity of licensing: if you’re admitted in state A you can become licensed in state B without taking the state B exam – and vice versa; but of course you still need to pass one exam. But some state bars do not allow reciprocity of licensing, California being an example.
      So one of the criteria for accreditation of a law school is that its graduates must have a decent pass rate on state bar exams – quite how this is assessed I don’t know, since (as I said before) you can generally take the bar exam in any state regardless of the state in which you graduate.

  6. As someone with both a PhD and a JD (and licensed attorney), I have the following comments. First off, neither physics grad school, electrical engineering grad school, math grad school, etc., require an admissions test. What you have to take at most grad schools, but not all, is a PhD qualifying exam in your first, second, or third year of grad school. I say not all grad schools, because recently several grad schools have been eliminating the PhD qualifying exam. Why? Because there is little correlation between doing well on these exams and being successful at research. The anecdotes are legion of well prepared foreign students doing very well on these exams and failing at research and American students doing the converse. Second, the LSAT has absolutely nothing to do with law school. Part of the LSAT is reading comprehension and part of it is a logic/IQ test. So, getting rid of the LSAT is just not a big deal. Further, the LSAT was never a barrier to stupid or incompetent people becoming lawyers. You can always find some accredited law school to accept you. So, really, what was the point of this expensive exam? Truthfully, the LSAT has only one rationale for its existence. It is a selection device for the most admissions-competitive law schools. The real exam for future attorneys is the State bar exam after they finish law school. There, the State decides on what qualifications they require for people to practice law in their State. But, the LSAT, … give me a break.

    1. Ummm. . . . do you have data showing that there’s no correlation between LSAT scores and how well you do in law school–or thereafter? Your claim that the LSAT “was never a barrier to stupid or incompetent people becoming lawyers carries NO weight at all.

      Here: some correlations for your edification: https://www.lsac.org/data-research/research/lsat-still-most-accurate-predictor-law-school-success

      Of course the LSAT is not perfect, but it tests your reasoning skills and comprehension, and, as you said, it allows the best law schools to get the candidates who score the highest. And, as you know, the best law schools turn out the most successful lawyers (you can look up data on that.)

      Are you suggesting that law schools ditch the LSAT and other standardized tests and just go with”holistic” admission, i.e. the way a candidate “feels” to them?

      1. Right on, boss. Why not weed out people for whom it’d be a disaster if they were let in in the first place? If I did badly on the LSAT I would have picked a field I could do better in. And have no debt or regret. As it is I did OK, and am a lawyer.
        D.A.
        NYC

    2. It’s been awhile, but I took the mathematics Graduate Record Exam (?) to get into Math Grad school. Coming from a small school with a poor math program, I wouldn’t have gotten in without my GRE score. The PHD qualifying exams were on top of that.

    3. 1. As far as I know, most graduate programs require the GRE.
      2. I agree that PhD quals do not predict ability to be successful at research; but (a) they do test whether you have enough background knowledge to likely be able to be successful, and (b) I don’t know of any test that’s predictive of the ability to be a successful researcher, something that requires not just knowledge but also skills (manual dexterity, even), a certain originality of thought, and – now, at least – the ability to find money.
      3. Sure the LSAT is a reading comprehension and a logic/IQ test, or at least was when I took it. But the ability to read, extract information from what you read, and process that information into a response to a question (law school) or brief or other legal document (legal practice) is precisely what law school and legal practice are about. And that makes the test useful – and predictive of law school success and state bar passage.
      Or at least that’s the way it was when I did my PhD and JD.

  7. It used to be that employers could give intelligence tests to job applicants. That became illegal. Employers started using college as a proxy. College attendance swelled and college degrees became less valuable, while costing a lot more to get. Think of the wasted time traded for lack of a 30 minute IQ test.

  8. Will we see efforts to get rid of the bar exam and board exams to become a doctor? How about the CPA?

    Or still have them, but have them so dumbed down that they measure little.

  9. hahah. DAMN I hated… just HATED taking the LSAT in 1998. I did well, but it was a hideous adventure. But it is probably necessary, just b/c there is a link between those who didn’t do well on it and those who quit law school, as debtors as opposed to lawyers.
    D.A. (J.D.)
    NYC

  10. This is reminiscent of discussions I had long ago about the utility of clinical dental board exams. The argument against hands-on boards usually suggested that they were irrelevant, since a handful of procedures performed over a couple of days could in no way encapsulate the body of problems we would face in clinical practice. I always thought this was dumb, because no individual patient does that either. Every patient has a limited set of problems and needs. What a board exam shares with each of those individual patients is that each of them presents a unique situation that requires dental skills. If you possess that set of skills, you’ll probably do OK. If you can’t successfully face a board exam that isn’t necessarily representative of the whole spectrum of dental skills, how are you going to do any better on the equally unrepresentative needs of your individual patients?

    It seems to me that the LSAT is a situation that requires a particular skill set, one that is broadly similar to the thinking skills required to do law successfully. Why wouldn’t performance on the LSAT constitute a reasonable part of the requirements to enter the field?

  11. There’s a good book – id say a general audience title – and a recommendation by a reader-commenter here (not 100% sure who ):

    The Tyranny of Merit
    Michael Sandel

    I’m not arguing anything – I’m only saying this title will be at least a somewhat relevant and interesting exposition in this category of goings-on : the redefinition of merit…

    Or, as the old folks called it, moving the goalposts.

  12. Once upon a time, a long time ago, a pal who went on to become a successful academic told me that there was greater correlation between success in grad school and the Miller Word Analogy test than with the GRE’s. I don’t know if that was true,but I just looked it up and the MWA still exists. I’ve remembered that for about a half-century now, so if it is true, maybe that’s an option.

  13. I strongly suspect that they are doing this due to the dwindling pool of prospective students who are capable of passing or getting acceptable scores on the exams and/or want to attend law school.

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