ABA Legal Ed council approves proposed rule change to end admission test requirement

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Barry Currier

Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education. ABA Journal file photo by the Canadian Press Images/Michael Desjardins.

Updated: A proposed revision to remove an admission test requirement for accredited law schools was approved Friday by the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar—as was a plan to reorganize the section.

Under the reorganization plan, the council will absorb the accreditation committee and the standards review committee. The council convened in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

The admission test revision proposes cutting Standard 503, which requires an admission exam, and beefing up Standard 501 to include the use of admission credentials and academic attrition when determining accreditation compliance. The current version of Standard 503 requires that law schools using alternate admissions tests to the LSAT demonstrate that the alternate exams are valid and reliable in determining whether a candidate can complete the school’s legal education program.

Under ABA rules, standards revisions go to the House of Delegates. The House can send a proposed rule back to the council twice for review with or without recommendations, but the council has the final decision on matters related to law school accreditation.

Regarding the section’s reorganization, any changes for related rules go to the House for concurrence, and bylaw changes go to the Legal Ed section and the Board of Governors for approval, according to a meeting summary the council posted Monday.

The standards revisions could go to the House of Delegates as early as August, as could bylaw changes, said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation.

In March 2017, another proposed revision to the admissions test standard—this one stating that the council would establish a process to determine the reliability and validity of other tests—was sent out for notice and comment. The council eventually decided not to pursue that proposed revision.

The council’s vote Friday on the revisions of standards related to admissions tests was 9-8. Proposed revisions with close votes usually don’t go to the House of Delegates, said council chair Maureen O’Rourke, but she felt comfortable moving it forward given the length of time that the matter has been discussed.

Regarding concerns about how the section will monitor law schools if there’s not an admission test requirement, Currier said that the section gets a lot of information from law schools’ annual questionnaires.

“We run all those questionnaires through our magic machine. All schools that trip triggers or flags are spit out,” Currier says. “It may be that on the basis of professional judgment there is no need to inquire, but there are some things that cause us to say: ‘We need to have a conversation with the school.’”

Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, told the ABA Journal that her group is pleased the proposed changes to the standards continue to encourage law schools to use valid and reliable admissions exams.

“We expect that our member schools will continue to use the LSAT for substantially all of their admissions to provide transparency and fairness by evaluating all applicants using common and consistent standards,” she wrote in an email. “As a result, while these changes shift the responsibility for fair admission practices from the ABA to law schools, we do not anticipate significant changes for the vast majority of law schools or their applicants.”

Also on Friday, the council approved revisions to six other standards:

    • Add “gender identity” to Standards 205 and 206, which address diversity, nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in legal education. The proposal states that the revisions would not require religiously affiliated groups to act inconsistently with elements of their religious beliefs.

    • Change language in Standard 303, which focuses on curriculum, and 304, which addresses experiential courses, to make clear that the classes be “primarily experiential in nature,” and that direct supervision from faculty is required for simulation and clinic courses, as well as field placements.

    • Change language in Standard 306 to allow up to one-third of credits to be obtained through distance education, and the option of giving 10 online credits for first-year curriculum. The current version of Standard 306 limits online credits to 15, unless the section gives a law school leeway for more.

    • Delete language in Standard 601, which addresses law school libraries, that requires written assessments of the facilities during the accreditation process.

    Like the admissions test revisions, these changes could go to the House of Delegates as early as August, according to Currier.

Updated May 14 at 1:30 p.m. to add additional standards revisions.

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