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The Law School Admission Council has always been responsible for creating and administering the Law School Admissions Test, the all-important examination which often determines who gets admitted to which law school. Now, the Newtown, Pa.-based organization is saying that the results of its test may carry more weight than they should. Last month, the LSAC unveiled a $10 million, five-year effort to encourage law schools to examine and rethink the way they handle the admissions process. Known as the “Initiative to Advance Education on the LSAT,” the goal of the project is to promote diversity in law schools. In order to achieve the desired diversity, the LSAC is encouraging law schools to avoid the traditional numbers-only approach to admissions and not to rely as heavily on LSAT scores. “I don’t think there’s any question that we believe it is important that the body of the legal profession reflect the society they are serving,” said Rennard Strickland, dean of the University of Oregon School of Law and chair of the LSAC board of trustees. “Right now, less than 10 percent of the legal profession are people of color. In a few years, more than 50 percent of our society will be people of color.” The project, the largest ever funded by the LSAC for such an initiative, was approved unanimously by the organization’s board of trustees in early December. The LSAC board has already approved several areas of the initiative, which is still in its planning stages. Among the ideas in the proposal is support for the Alternative Models Implementation Project, which would de-emphasize numbers-based admission policies and broaden admissions criteria. The plan also calls for an annual national training workshop for law school admission officials, augmentation of the LSAC faculty outreach program and a legal profession education campaign. These three aspects of the project educate law school officials, professors, lawyers, judges and legislators about the proper use of the LSAT and the importance of other admissions criteria. The fund also has money available for other projects that the LSAC board may later approve. The LSAC’s initiative comes at a time when affirmative action in admissions policies is quite a hot topic. The most well-known case on this subject is Hopwood v. Texas, the University of Texas Law School’s ongoing saga. The case began in 1992 when four white students sued UT after they were denied admission. They claimed that several minorities with lesser qualifications were admitted instead. A 1994 ruling in Hopwood stated that UT’s admission process was unconstitutional but that considering an applicant’s race was not wrong. In 1996, however, a three-judge panel ruled that schools should not consider race in the admissions process, a ruling that led to the dismantling of affirmative action at UT. And the most recent decision, which was released by a different three-judge panel last month, affirmed the ruling of the 1996 panel. Law schools across the nation watched Hopwood, as well as a recent ruling in Michigan that upheld the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in its undergraduate and graduate admissions policies. “Those cases were a long time coming,” said University of Pennsylvania Law School Director of Admissions Janice Austin, who is a member of the LSAC board of trustees. “It was a culmination of a lot of things. It was not a knee-jerk reaction to Hopwood.” The debate over affirmative action, however, did weigh heavily on the decision of the LSAC board, which believes an applicant’s potential for success in law school is not as clear-cut as an undergraduate grade point average and an LSAT score. This was something Strickland and the other board members had previously discovered while researching a report on law school admissions policies. “Two years ago, we issued a report on alternative admissions models, things beyond the LSAT and GPA, that law schools might use,” Strickland said. “In the process, it became clear that more was needed than simply putting the models out there.” According to Strickland, research for the report, titled “Beyond the Numbers,” opened the eyes of many at the LSAC. Strickland came across numerous students whose numbers were not as high as other applicants but who went on to tremendous success in the legal profession. Strickland, though, noted that each law school is different, and he hopes the result of the diversity initiative will be to see each school achieve an enrollment that is diverse but appropriate for that particular institution. “It’s hard to take a broad stroke to minority enrollment across the country,” said Austin, who believes several factors, such as geography, play an important role in a school’s diversity. “I think we’ve done a great job here at Penn, and we hope to continue to do so.” According PaLaw 2000, an annual magazine published by American Lawyer Media and The Legal Intelligencer, the University of Pennsylvania Law School had the highest percentage of minority enrollment of the eight law schools that serve the Pennsylvania area last year at 22 percent. Duquesne University School of Law had the lowest at 5.4 percent. Austin said the most important goals of the initiative were education and awareness. She does not know whether law schools will be more diverse in five years but said the LSAC board hopes schools will become more aware of the importance of diversity in admissions. “We are a diverse nation,” Austin said. “We want diversity in all professions.”

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