University of Washington School of Law dean Kellye Testy.  (Courtesy photo) University of Washington School of Law dean Kellye Testy. (Courtesy photo)

 

University of Washington School of Law Dean Kellye Testy will be the next president and chief executive officer of the Law School Admission Council—the nonprofit organization that administers the Law School Admission Test and runs the central clearinghouse for law school applications.

The council announced Tuesday that Testy will assume its top leadership post on July 1, after heading up Washington’s law school for the past eight years.

Testy is a familiar name in legal education circles, having served as president of the Association of American Law Schools in 2016. She announced in February that she would step down as law dean. Testy replaces interim president Athornia Steele, who assumed the job after former president Daniel Bernstine died in September.

Testy’s appointment comes at a time of unprecedented change for the council, which, in addition to seeing a dramatic decline in LSAT takers, is facing competition for its singular control over the law school admissions process.

“[Testy] has such a sophisticated understanding of legal education and the legal profession,” said Susan Krinsky, associate dean for students at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and chair of the council’s board of trustees. “She paints a compelling picture of where we are, where we could be, what we could do.”

The LSAT’s newfound competition from the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, is among the many challenges Testy will face as council president. The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in 2016 became the first to accept GRE scores in addition to LSAT scores. Harvard Law School announced in March that it too will accept GRE scores. And the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is contemplating a certification process that would make it much easier for all law schools to use alternative tests. (The current ABA rules make it difficult for schools to use any test other than the LSAT.)

“What students want is easier access—more test administrations and more formats,” Testy said. “As you do that, you have to make sure you don’t compromise quality. Some tests have gone so far to the access side that they’ve compromised their quality. We’re going to try to move toward access while still being the gold standard for quality.”

The council was none too pleased with the GRE’s entrance into the law school admission arena last year. It threatened to boot Arizona from its membership last April—a decision that didn’t go over well with many deans. Deans from 149 schools, including Testy, signed a letter supporting Arizona’s right to experiment with the GRE, and the council eventually backed off.

“I think the LSAC is an incredibly important organization,” said Arizona law Dean Marc Miller, who clashed with the council over the school’s use of the GRE. “We haven’t had the most effective working relationship with them for a while, but I’m excited by Kellye Testy’s selection. I think she’s a superb choice.”

Testy said Tuesday that she believes the majority of law students should still be admitted through the LSAT since it’s the only test specifically designed to gauge their likelihood of success in law school.

“I think that students deserve to make sure that law school is a fit for them, and that they’re able to succeed,” she said.

Krinsky said that the quality of the LSAT itself is superior to alternative tests, but that the entrance of the GRE into the law admissions is pushing the council to improve upon the delivery of the exam.

Alongside Testy’s appointment, the council is eyeing some major updates to the LSAT, which debuted in 1948. Notably, the council has been in “extensive discussions” about increasing the frequency of the exam, which is now offered just four times a year, Krinsky said. The board is expected to make a final decision when it meets later this month.

“We want to make it more convenient for people who take the test and more convenient for schools,” Krinsky said. “Right now, if somebody doesn’t take [the LSAT] in February, they have to wait until June. And then there is another big gap between June and October. Given that the admissions cycle has really become a year-round phenomenon, it makes sense to make it easier for schools and applicants.”

Other changes afoot include the LSAT’s possible conversion to a computerized format. On May 20, the council will conduct a national pilot of a digital version of the LSAT offered on tablet computers. The exam is currently only offered on paper. The 1,000 digital test takers won’t receive official scores, but the pilot is the biggest step thus far toward moving the LSAT from paper to computers. All other major graduate-level admissions have been offered digitally for more than a decade.

As for longer term objectives, Testy said that she hopes to use her appointment to further the council’s diversity efforts and to transform the organization into a more vocal proponent of legal education and the importance of the rule of law. “We need to make sure we’re admitting great students and giving them every chance of success,” she said.

Waning interest in law school is yet another issue Testy will tackle in her new role. The number of applicants to ABA-accredited law schools fell more than 35 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to council data. In addition to taking on more of a public education role, the council is upgrading online portals that allow would-be law students to manage their applications to multiple schools and that help law schools admissions offices recruit applicants.

“We know that all the admission professionals in legal education are challenged in this more competitive environment,” Testy said. “We’re investing substantially in upgrades to those systems to make them even more helpful.”

The LSAC recently announced a partnership with Khan Academy—a juggernaut of free online education—to launch a free LSAT preparation course. The council has also recently granted $300,000 to the Council of Legal Education Opportunity, which conducts programs intended to prepare diverse high school, college and law students for law school and legal careers.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ