Disability Law

ABA on Blind Applicant's Suit: LSAT Isn't Required; Law Schools Decide How to Weigh Any Test

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In a written public statement responding to a federal lawsuit filed last week that accuses the American Bar Association of discriminating against those with visual impairments by requiring law school applicants to take an admission test that includes questions requiring the ability to diagram and demonstrate visual reasoning skills, the ABA says it does not require law schools to use the Law School Admission Test.

It is also up to law schools to decide how to weigh any admission test and determine which applicants to admit, the ABA points out. And the Law School Admission Council, an independent nonprofit group that develops and administers the LSAT, “regularly grants accommodations for visually-impaired test takers,” the statement says.

As detailed in a previous ABAJournal.com post, plaintiff Angelo Binno and his lawyer, Richard Bernstein of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, contend that the ABA effectively requires law schools to administer the LSAT to applicants, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and making it difficult or impossible for those who are visually impaired to attend top-tier law schools because of low LSAT scores.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a law school accreditor. And, to comply with department rules and meet its accreditation responsibilities, the Section Council has adopted Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools, the ABA statement explains.

These ABA standards and procedural rules “require ABA-accredited schools to operate their programs, including their admissions processes, in conformity with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws which prohibit discrimination against the disabled,” the statement continues.

And the ABA “has a deep and long-standing commitment to diversity and to promoting opportunities for persons with disabilities in the legal community. One of the ABA’s four fundamental goals is the elimination of bias and the enhancement of diversity in the profession. Part of that vision includes access and participation in all aspects of the legal system by persons with physical disabilities. This effort is spearheaded by the ABA’s Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law.”

At issue in the Eastern District of Michigan complaint filed by Binno is Standard 503 of the standards and rules of procedure adopted by the Section Council of ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

While Standard 503 provides that “[a] law school shall require each applicant for admission … to take a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s educational program,” it includes no requirement that law schools administer the LSAT, the ABA points out. And several law schools accredited by the ABA do use other admission tests, the statement says.

Additionally, law schools, not the ABA, decide what weight to give the admission test when deciding what applicants to admit, in conjunction with other factors that commonly include “undergraduate course of study and grade point average, extracurricular activities, work experience, performance in other graduate or professional programs, relevant demonstrated skills, and obstacles overcome,” the statement continues. “These other considerations are important to promote the wise and equitable treatment of all applicants.”

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Blind Law School Applicant’s Suit Contends ABA Violates ADA by Promoting LSAT”

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