10 Questions

LSAC president reflects on challenges facing legal ed as she shifts to lead Association of American Law Schools

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Kellye Testy will become the executive director and CEO of the Association of American Law Schools on July 1. Photo by Yosef Kalinko.

When Kellye Testy joined the Law School Admission Council in 2017 as president and CEO, she came as a dean known for advocating for access and diversity. During her tenure at the LSAC, she oversaw many changes, including the sudden shift to the game-changing online LSAT exams during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she fought for diversity in the profession by attracting a diverse group of LSAT examinees.

As the 2022 ABA Journal Legal Rebel prepares to leave her post June 30 and start the very next day as executive director and CEO of the Association of American Law Schools, she talked with the Journal about the changes and the challenges facing legal education. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You spent seven years leading the LSAC. How has the organization changed?

I wanted LSAC to be a beacon, a place where people saw us as a helper—really opening up our arms not only to say, “We want you” but “How can we help you get there?” We’re much more candidate-centric now and a much more responsive organization to our members—the schools and the people within them. The feeling now is that people rely upon and trust us.

A lot of LSAC’s work focuses on technology. Which specific moves are you especially proud of?

We had to make a very bold decision that the pandemic was not going away overnight, and we needed to make a real change. The fact that we were able to build an entire system to go online within two months when other test companies really struggled, that showed our responsiveness. That really helped keep enrollment flowing, which helped candidates and schools. We’ve continued to innovate to make the test more accessible online and bring it to testing centers. It helps people have more than one way—and certainly many more times&mdashto take the test. That’s helped decrease students’ anxiety, which helped them perform better. We’ve built LawHub, test preparation that goes from prelaw all the way through practice to help candidates know how to apply to law school, how to study for the test and how to succeed in law school. On the school side, we built our incredibly sophisticated piece of enrollment management software called LSAC Unite Platform that we give our schools for free. It helps them do enrollment in a way that saves them a lot of expense on staff, on technology and reach out to candidates.

What are your thoughts about law schools using the JD-Next, a new admissions test?

I’m never going to be wedded to any one product, but I am wedded to evidence about what really works for diversity and equity. The LSAT is the one assessment with high correlation with success in law school and enhancing equity. But schools also should look at a broad array of other things, including tools we’re developing to understand the social context of someone’s application. So we find ourselves in the ironic place of saying, “It’s our test,” but we’re like, “Whoa, don’t overuse it.”

With the Supreme Court striking down diversity initiatives, how has LSAC reached students of different backgrounds?

We realized early on which direction the Supreme Court was likely to be heading. We knew that when states outlawed affirmative action, the biggest downside was that candidates took themselves out of running—they decided to not even apply. Digital advertising, marketing and outreach have kept the pool of candidates strong and very diverse. The last three years have been the most diverse law school classes in history. This year is even more diverse even with the headwinds coming at equity.

You’re moving to AALS, which is not only an LSAC collaborator but you’ve sat on the executive committee and served as president.

It’s a funny transition because they are so close. I’ve had to talk to myself about, “This really is happening.” I am very gratified that I’ll continue to work with all the deans and all the schools and still work very closely with LSAC and our partners. It makes the move easier, and there’ll be a lot of fun to deepen that collaboration.

What are the differences and similarities between the two jobs?

They’re such nice complementary organizations. LSAC has always said, “Let us get the great students,” and AALS has said, “Let us help you get the great faculty, staff and deans that can then do the most with them.” You need both to be excellent. But they are vastly different. LSAC is a heavily operational organization. We have 400 employees. We build and deploy technology. AALS has its big annual meeting in January, but it has only 24 employees. AALS depends upon 350 volunteers who lead the various sections. I’m going to be more of a hub for a big volunteer organization than an employee-driven organization.

What are you looking forward to at AALS?

Reconnecting with the academy in a deeper way. At AALS, we make their work easier. There’s a lot of pressure on law schools to do more and more and more with less. I’m eager to find out how can I leverage AALS as a hub, so those law schools feel we’re making their work even more effective.

You’ve been a law professor and the dean at Seattle University and University of Washington. How will those experiences inform your work?

AALS is the scholarly organization for all faculty, but it’s a member organization of the law schools through their deans. Having been a dean for 15 years, they all know me. The fact that I’ve walked in their shoes will help them trust that I understand the challenges and the opportunities and will design things to help them do their jobs better, along with help them navigate the real change that’s coming at them fast and furious.

Indeed, there are fast and furious changes, like generative AI and alternative pathways to the bar. What’s driving these shifts?

Technology changes everything. We don’t need to see that as fearful but as an opportunity—how can we leverage technology to do better? The other pressure point is the access-to-justice gap. Way too many people today cannot afford the legal representation they need, or they don’t have adequate representation. We’re seeing a push for law schools to teach law more broadly to a bigger set of constituents, so there’s a greater chance that people’s legal needs can be met. Also, we have incredible political pressure on democracy right now. Because law is one of the cornerstones of democracy, the question is how to keep law strong as we’re experiencing such change. That’s why you’re seeing people consider if should we have different pathways to the bar. We need more law help than we have. It’s why we see pressure around what we should teach and how we should teach it.

It’s a lot. Is it possible to navigate all of these challenges?

It’s so easy to think everything’s broken when there’s pressure like this, but the American legal education is really strong. It’s remarkable how many times legal education has dealt with these waves of change. We need to understand what’s kept it strong, what might need to be changed, what we might need to hang on to, and how to respond so that our world continues to respect law and lawyers, so our system of justice can remain strong and our democracy remains free.

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