The American Bar Association’s longstanding requirement that law schools use the LSAT in admissions looks to be on the way out.

An ABA committee on April 13 recommended axing the accreditation standard mandating that schools use a standardized test in admissions. That move would eliminate the LSAT’s status as the only test specifically allowed by the ABA.

That change, should it be approved by the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and the ABA’s House of Delegates later this year, would pave the way for schools nationwide to use the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and other alternative tests. Thus far, 17 law schools are accepting or have said they soon will accept the GRE alongside the LSAT. But other campuses have been awaiting a decision from the ABA to clarify whether the GRE is allowed under its accreditation standards.

“I’m delighted by the result,” said Dan Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, who has been a vocal advocate of the GRE’s use in law school admissions. “I and many others have been saying in recent months that the decision to let schools fundamentally have a choice about which test to use in considering applicants, and how to use that test, is best made by the law schools.”

It’s unlikely that law schools will opt to admit students with no standardized test scores at all, even without a formal accreditation standard requiring the LSAT or another test. Under a proposal from the Standards Review Committee, the ABA would presume schools using no admissions test are out of compliance with the standards. The schools would then have to actively prove that they’re not admitting students with little chance of graduating and passing the bar exam. Moreover, the modified interpretation of the ABA’s admission standard would stipulate that schools use a “valid and reliable test,” but would not take any position on which tests fit that bill.

“The schools are still going to have to show that any test they use is valid and reliable, and the LSAT has been shown to be,” said Kellye Testy, the president of the Law School Admission Council. “It’s opening the door for schools to think about alternatives, but the value of the test isn’t just to the schools, but to the applicants.”

David Payne, vice president of Educational Test Service, which administers the GRE, said Monday that the change makes sense.

“It removes the burden of the ABA being the arbiter of what is a valid and reliable test, which seems appropriate,” Payne said.

GRE proponents had urged the ABA to eliminate the LSAT requirement and allow schools to use whatever test, or no test at all. Doing away with the LSAT requirement would enable law schools to experiment with new ways of admitting students and tap into new pools of potential applicants, according to GRE supporters.

On the opposite side of the issue, LSAT supporters argued that the exam is the gold standard in law school admissions and that it offers the best predictor to schools and applicants of the likelihood of success on campus. Prospective students deserve to have a good sense of whether or not they will be able to graduate and pass the bar exam before taking on debt, they argue.

The ABA on Thursday held a public hearing on a proposal to do away with the LSAT requirement, and many interested parties also submitted comments before the vote.

The committee’s recommendation isn’t the last word on the admissions test matter. That recommendation will go to the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and could be voted on at its meeting next month. Any changes adopted by the council would then go before the ABA’s House of Delegates for final approval, possibly as soon as August.

The accreditation rule at the heart of the debate—Standard 503—has been hotly debated since law schools began using the GRE in 2016. (The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law pioneered using the GRE in 2016, and now 17 law schools accept or soon will accept the alternative exam, which is used by most graduate degree programs outside of law and medicine.)

The existing rule allows law schools to admit up to 10 percent of their entering class from among applicants who don’t have an LSAT score as long as they meet certain criteria, such as being an undergraduate at the law school’s home campus or enrolling in a joint degree program. The rule also allows schools to use an alternative test as long as they can prove that test is “valid and reliable,” in assessing law school performance.

Uncertainty over the ABA’s position on the GRE has led some campuses to take a wait-and-see approach before allowing applicants to submit GRE scores.

“We have had schools that have already contacted us to say that they want to use the GRE, but were waiting for a final decision to come out,” Payne said. “I believe this is a win-win.”


➤➤ Want more reporting on trends in legal education? Sign up here for Ahead of the Curve by Karen Sloan, a new email briefing from Law.com. Each week, Karen examines the transformation of legal education, spotlights innovative programs and breaks down the latest law school news.