ABA Midyear Meeting

Entrance exams like the LSAT remain an accreditation requirement after proposed change is voted down

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Eraser on a standardized test

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A proposed revision to a law school accreditation standard that would remove an entrance exam requirement was rejected by the ABA House of Delegates on Feb. 6 at the organization’s midyear meeting in New Orleans.

Resolution 300 was brought by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and called for cutting the test requirement in Standard 503.

A similar measure, which suggested cutting the standard altogether, was brought by the section in August 2018 but withdrawn shortly before the House gathered.

“The council is disappointed in the House of Delegates’ vote on Resolution 300,” Bill Adams, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, said in a statement. At a Feb. 17 meeting, the council decided to resubmit its proposal at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in August.

Under ABA rules, proposed revisions to the accreditation standards and rules are sent to the House for concurrence up to two times, but the council has the final decision on matters related to law school education.

Many spoke in favor of and against the resolution, but for the most part, all agreed on one thing: that their respective positions would promote diversity in legal education.

While law schools can now use the GRE as an entrance exam, many still use the Law School Admission Test.

Joseph West, chair of the Legal Ed council, noted the LSAT has been used for some time, yet diversity in the profession remains abysmal.

“The council is not eliminating nor prohibiting the LSAT; in fact, the council cannot do so. It’s simply allowing each law school to decide whether it wants to require it,” said West, a partner and the chief diversity officer at Duane Morris. And “in fact, despite the lack of an accreditor-required admission test, nearly all medical schools still require applicants to submit an MCAT score.”

“Why would we want this kind of flexibility as law school deans?” Craig Boise, dean of Syracuse University College of Law and a member of the Legal Ed council, asked the House. For one thing, admissions tests don’t predict law student success as much as many think, he said.

Angela Winfield, the Law School Admission Council’s vice president and chief diversity officer, spoke against the resolution. Citing LSAC data, she said Black law school applicants with undergraduate GPAs between 3.0 and 3.24 who did not submit LSAT scores had a 15% acceptance rate. White applicants in the same category had a 35% acceptance rate.

For Black and white law school applicants with that GPA range and LSAT scores in the 145 to 149 range, the acceptance rate was 52%, Winfield said.

‘Opportunity for mischief’

Paulette Brown, a former ABA president, spoke against the resolution as well. Now retired, she spent much of her career as a lawyer in private practice doing diversity and inclusion work.

She was initially unsure about what she thought of the resolution.

“Every time I hear the word ‘flexibility,’ the hair goes up on my neck. Because when you talk about flexibility, that means subjectivity. And when you introduce subjectivity into any process, it provides too much opportunity for mischief,” said Brown, adding that subjectivity is “how unconscious biases creep in.”

During notice and comment for the proposed revision, more than 55 deans of ABA-accredited law schools sent a letter to the council arguing that removing a law school admissions test could increase a school’s reliance on grade point averages and “other criteria that are potentially more infused with bias.”

Discourse around Standard 503 has been plentiful.

Initially, the standard required all ABA-accredited law schools to use the LSAT.

In 2016, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law received a variance to accept the Graduate Record Examination in addition to the LSAT.

A handful of other schools followed suit, and the Legal Ed council in 2018 brought a resolution to cut Standard 503. It was met with opposition from the Young Lawyers Division Assembly and the Minority Network, a group of law school admissions professionals. It was withdrawn shortly before the House vote was scheduled.

Also in 2021, the council in closed session voted to allow the GRE to be used as an entrance exam in addition to the LSAT. That addressed an application of the standard, not a revision, and did not require concurrence from the House, Adams said.

Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the LSAC, said in a statement that it welcomes the council having additional time to research what sort of impact eliminating law school admissions exams would have.

“We are committed to working with the ABA and the entire legal education community to reconsider these issues and find shared ways to continue to expand access and diversity,” she said.

The Educational Testing Service, which is responsible for the GRE, took a similar position.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the vote by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates today against the revisions to Standards 501 and 503. With this, we look forward to continuing to support law schools in their effort to recruit, retain and educate the law students of tomorrow,” according to an organization statement.

This story was originally published in the April-May 2023 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Testing Standards: Entrance exams like the LSAT remain an accreditation requirement after proposed change is voted down.”

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