Should Law Schools Keep The LSAT?

Published: Aug 24, 2022

 Education       Grad School       Law       

The Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, has long been an important part of the law school application process. But why? Should it continue to be such an integral part of getting into law school?

A Brief History

In 1945, the admissions director at Columbia Law School came up with the idea of a capacity test that would predict law school performance, assess skills necessary for success in legal study, and generate results that were easy to read and understand. Manhattan Review. (n.d.). History of the LSAT. Manhattan Review. https://www.manhattanreview.com/lsat-history/. Further, standardized tests were viewed as an “equalizer to ensure that all students had the same opportunities to be admitted to law school regardless of where they obtained their undergraduate degrees or what their field of study was.” Laval, C. (2022, March 25). Is the LSAT a Thing of the Past? Alternative Law School Admissions. FindLaw. https://www.findlaw.com/legalblogs/practice-of-law/is-the-lsat-a-thing-of-the-past-alternative-law-school-admissions/. So, since 1948, the LSAT has been part of the process of applying to law school and recognized as the best way to gauge students’ ability to learn the law.

The test was not designed to measure background knowledge or assume that test-takers know the law; rather, it was developed to assess skills needed for law school success, including reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and persuasive writing. Ebadolahi, M. (n.d.). LSATMax. https://testmaxprep.com/blog/lsat/history-of-the-lsat. Recently, as many as 100,000-150,000 people per year have taken the LSAT.

Recent Developments

The University of Arizona School of Law, in 2016, became the first school to move away from the LSAT requirement when it decided to also accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The following year, Harvard, Georgetown, and Northwestern followed suit. As of 2022, almost 80% of law schools accept GRE scores in place of LSAT scores. (Laval, 2022).

And the American Bar Association (ABA) has joined the fray. In November 2021, the organization stated that only a “valid and reliable” admissions exam—not solely the LSAT—was required for law school admission, and approved use of the GRE by its member schools. The ABA has revived a proposal in 2022 to do away with the requirement that applicants provide standardized exam scores. This follows the national trend of colleges and universities scrapping aptitude test mandates for undergraduate admissions. Bauer-Wolf, J. (2022, May 11). The ABA is again trying to end LSAT requirements. Will it stick this time? Higher Ed Dive. https://www.highereddive.com/news/the-aba-is-again-trying-to-end-lsat-requirements-will-it-stick-this-time/623414/.

Where to Go from Here

So, should the LSAT remain a necessary part of the law school admissions process? Or should it be set aside, whether in favor of the GRE or, perhaps, striking standardized tests altogether?

Why should the LSAT be preserved as a criterion for law school admission?

  1. As mentioned earlier, the test has proven effective in evaluating candidates’ ability in several key areas seen as important for determining success in law school. It is the best predictor of law school performance—even better than undergraduate GPA.
  2. The LSAT serves as an objective way of differentiating candidates when it might otherwise be difficult to compare them based on subjective criteria. When students’ credentials are similar, LSAT scores may tip the scales in one student’s favor.
  3. As of now, it is the only test accepted by all ABA-accredited law schools and the only test designed specifically for law school admission.
  4. Alternative, more generic tests may include subjects not relevant to the study of law. The GRE, for example, includes a section on math.
  5. It promotes fairness and equity. The LSAT allows ordinary students to show they have the skills needed to compete intellectually with more privileged applicants.

Why should the LSAT be abandoned?

  1. It is an expensive undertaking, and these costs hinder the opportunities of disadvantaged, lower-income students when compared to their wealthier peers. Per LSAC, the organization that administers the LSAT, “basic fees” for taking the test are $455, and the possibility of additional costs for prep courses or individual tutoring can make it costly to take the LSAT. LSAC. (n.d.). LSAT & CAS Fees. LSAC. https://www.lsac.org/lsat/register-lsat/lsat-cas-fees.
  2. The LSAT is a single-purpose test and is good for only one thing—getting into law school. If you decide to pursue something else, like employment or another academic program, the results of the test mean nothing.
  3. Unlike the SAT and GRE, for which you can choose your highest score, the LSAT score report typically includes all your test scores. So, if you are unprepared or have a bad test day, schools you apply to will still see those scores—and this could impact whether you are admitted or not.
  4. Some people argue that the test prevents equal access. According to a 2020 article in the New York University Law Review, the LSAT is a “barrier to entry with disparate negative impacts on women, racial minorities, individuals of low socioeconomic status, and, perhaps most egregiously, those with disabilities.” Amabebe, E. (2020, December). Beyond “Valid and Reliable”: The LSAT, ABA Standard 503, and the Future of Law School Admissions. New York University Law Review. https://www.nyulawreview.org/issues/volume-95-number-6/beyond-valid-and-reliable-the-lsat-aba-standard-503-and-the-future-of-law-school-admissions/.
  5. The big-picture value of the LSAT is questionable. Yes, it measures certain abilities, but how accurate is it in predicting other important factors of being a good lawyer, including strong work ethic, ethical behavior, and the ability to preserve a client’s confidentiality?

There still are benefits of the LSAT in the law school admissions process. However, perhaps it has run its course as the end-all, be-all in determining students’ ability to successfully navigate their time in law school.

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