Law Schools

Why should law schools have to require LSAT or GRE? Law deans ask the question

  • Print


The requirement that ABA-accredited law schools use some sort of entrance exam in the admissions process hampers innovation and does little to guide schools toward the admission of students capable of mastering legal education and passing a bar exam, according to a group of law school deans.

The six deans–who include Erwin Chemerinsky, now at the University of California Berkeley School of Law; Daniel B. Rodriguez of Northwestern University; and Blake Morant of George Washington University–submitted their statement (PDF) focusing on whether the council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar should devise a process to validate non-LSAT entrance exams. The public hearing took place Thursday in Chicago.

“Just because individual schools might continue to require an admissions test,” the statement reads, “why should it be required for accreditation?”

The current version of the accreditation rule, Standard 503, directs law schools using alternate admissions tests to demonstrate that the exams are valid and reliable. Some law schools, including the University of Arizona and Harvard University, recently decided to accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. Marc L. Miller, Arizona’s law school dean, was one of six who signed the proposal that argued entrance exam requirements hamper innovation.

John F. Manning, Harvard Law’s dean, submitted a statement (PDF) that claimed accepting the GRE as an entrance exam “lowers barriers to application.” Harvard’s statement was also signed by Martha Minow, a former dean of the law school, and Jessica Soban, its associate dean for strategic initiatives and admissions.

Another statement (PDF) was submitted by Princeton, New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE. It argued that ABA standards regarding the validity and reliability of law school admissions tests should apply to the LSAT as well.

“As currently worded, the proposed revisions apply to every test proposed to be used in law school admissions except for the LSAT,” reads the statement submitted by David G. Payne, ETS’ vice president and chief operating officer.

The Newton, Pennsylvania-based Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, also submitted a statement (PDF) ahead of the hearing. Law schools have relied on the test for more than 50 years to set a common standard for candidate evaluation, according to the LSAC, and the test is based on solid research and evaluated on a continuing basis. The statement was signed by Christina B. Whitman, chair of its board of trustees, and Kellye Y. Testy, its president and chief executive officer.

If another admissions test is as good as the LSAT, the statement reads, the LSAC has no objection to law schools using it, and the organization “does not seek a monopoly” in legal education.

“Today, many law schools are experiencing economic stress as they adjust to changes in the admission and employment markets stemming from structural change in the profession as well as from continuing challenges to the rule of law in society,” the statement reads. “It is tempting during such times of stress to seek to reduce standards of quality, and often these reductions in standards come forward as arguments for innovation and deregulation.”

“Like the council, and I think everyone in this room, we support equality and fairness in legal education,” Joan E. Van Tol, the LSAC’s general counsel, said at the hearing. “If other tests meet those goals, we support those as well, but we urge the council to set high standards for both validity and reliability.”

David Yassky, the law school dean at Pace University, is opposed to the proposed revision to Standard 503. “Serious law school applicants,” he wrote in his statement (PDF), will likely continue taking the LSAT, and most if not all law schools will continue to accept it as an entrance exam.

An LSAT score alone does not provide enough information to accurately assess a candidate, according to Yassky, but it provides valuable information about applicants.

“At worst, current Standard 503 permits the entry into law schools of students who are less likely to succeed in school than other students–but there is no risk that leaving current Standard 503 in place will allow unqualified individuals into the profession, and thus the proposed revision offers no benefit in terms of the quality of legal practitioners.”

Meanwhile, law school admissions officers had varied opinions about the entrance exam standard, according to a survey of 119 law schools conducted in April and May by Kaplan Test Prep.

Of the schools polled, “61 percent say the ABA should make a statement saying that law schools are either permitted or not permitted to allow applicants to submit GRE scores as an alternative to scores from the LSAT, long the only sanctioned law school admissions exam. Twenty-seven percent say it should not; and 13 percent are unsure,” a press release states.

Public comments for a proposed revision to Standard 403, which would modify the rule to require that only the first-third of law school courses be delivered by full-time faculty, were also taken at Thursday’s hearing. Currently, the standard requires that full-time faculty teach more than half of all credit hours offered or two-thirds of student contact hours generated by student enrollment at the law school.

“A law school faced with financial problems will take this proposed revision and run with it. Law schools will slow down or stop their tenure-line hiring. Tenured faculty members who retire or die will not be replaced. Freed from the constraints imposed by current Standard 403, deans at financially beleaguered law schools will hire part-time faculty members, who cost less, to teach many courses now taught by full-time faculty members,” read a statement (PDF) from Dan Barnhizer, Adam Candeub, Mae Kuykendall and Anne Lawton, all of whom are professors at Michigan State University College of Law

“The change will not happen overnight, of course. But within a decade or two, this revision will fundamentally change the way law school faculties look, in particular in the bottom tiers, where the struggle to survive financially is most acute,” the statement reads.

To meet requirements listed in Standard 404, which deals with the responsibilities of full-time faculty, they should be available to first-, second- and third-year law students, according to a statement (PDF) submitted by the Clinical Legal Education Association. The group opposes the proposed revision to Standard 403.

“Part-time faculty have no specific obligations under the ABA Standards. While adjunct faculty may add value to a law school’s curriculum, they are often engaged in full-time employment outside the law school and their responsibilities are limited to teaching individual courses,” the statement reads. “Adjunct faculty members do not participate in law school governance; many are poorly compensated for their teaching and none have job security.

“To maintain the quality of legal education, full-time faculty with the responsibilities outlined in Standard 404 should be teaching and available to students in all years of law school.”

Denise Roy, a co-president with the Society of American Law School Teachers, testified that her group would welcome more rigorous standards that ensured high-quality teaching. If law schools are allowed to decrease the size of full-time faculty, she said, it’s likely that the quality of legal education would suffer.

“The size of full-time faculty already has been shrinking, and it’s harder and harder to do a good job with educational programming, because of the need for training, advising, and so on,” said Roy, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.