The LSAT still reigns.
The arm of the American Bar Association that oversees law schools on Monday withdrew a closely watched proposal to eliminate its requirement that schools use the Law School Admission Test for prospective students.
The withdrawal of the proposal that was set to go before the ABA’s House of Delegates during its annual meeting in Chicago means the LSAT rule remains in effect, complicating the movement toward law schools accepting alternative tests such as the GRE and GMAT.
Cornell Law School said on July 17 that will accept both GRE and GMAT scores in addition to the traditional Law School Admission Test. On July 18, New York University School of Law unveiled that it, too, will accept the GRE for 2019’s incoming class.
That means that seven of New York’s 15 law schools now accept the Graduate Record Examination, and all three of the state’s top-tier campuses have embraced the alternative test. Columbia Law School said in October that it would begin accepting GRE scores this fall.
The ABA’s House of Delegates never had the opportunity to debate the controversial measure. The chairman of the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver of the Northern District of Ohio, said only that LSAT proposal had run into pushback from delegates and that the council would take time to reconsider the measure.
“The concerns that our delegates heard from other members of the house will be reported to the council and the council will determine how it wishes to proceed,” said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of legal education.
Law School Admission Council president Kellye Testy had made the case in the months leading up to the House of Delegates meeting that the LSAT is the best predictor of law school performance, and that using the test protects applicants by providing a good indication of their chances of graduating and passing the bar.
“Today’s decision gives us all time to work together to consider how to proceed in the best interests of applicants and law schools to promote access and equity in law school admission,” she said Monday after the LSAT proposal was withdrawn. “While law school applications are on the upswing, LSAC is eager to partner with our member schools to provide greater flexibility and creativity in admissions while ensuring fairness, access and transparency for all candidates.”
Less controversial were the house’s votes to overhaul the ABA’s law school accreditation procedure to save money and boost efficiency. That measure passed, as did a change to the ABA’s accreditation standards that will boost the number of online credit hours J.D. students may take from 15 to as many as 30. The updated distance education rule also removes the prohibition against online courses during the crucial 1L year.
The opposition by some delegates to the elimination of the LSAT requirement is somewhat usual because the House of Delegates generally concurs with changes put forth by the legal education council. But it’s not unheard of for the house to come down on the opposite side of a hot-button issue than the council.
In February 2017 the House of Delegates rejected a proposed change to the law school accreditation standards that would have beefed up the minimum bar pass rates schools much achieve after diversity advocates—who argued that the new rule would disproportionately hurt campuses with high minority enrollment—mounted a fourth-quarter campaign against it.
The house’s decision isn’t necessarily the final word on the LSAT requirement, however. The council could decide to bring it back before the body as early as February. Should the house vote it down again, the council could move forward with the change over its objections. The council has yet to bring back the bar passage standard, however. Still, the council could bring the LSAT proposal back before in the House of Delegates at its next meeting in February.
The council in May voted to do away with the LSAT requirement after considering the matter for more than a year. Under the proposed new standard, law schools would be able to use any admission test they like or use no test at all. But if a school opted to have no required test, they would come under added scrutiny from the ABA and must demonstrate that they aren’t admitting people who are unlikely to graduate and pass the bar.
With the LSAT requirement still on the books, the council must deal with the thorny issue of the GRE’s entrance into the law school admissions landscape. More than 20 law schools currently allow applicants to submit either GRE or LSAT scores.
Schools now using the GRE have to perform validity studies to prove that the test is a good predictor of law school grades. And it falls on the ABA to police use of alternative tests.
Beyond the LSAT debate, the reorganization of the ABA’s law school accreditation process is the most significant change the legal education section has seen in decades. It essentially cuts in half the number of people involved in law school accreditation decisions and will save the section “several hundreds of thousands of dollars” annually, according to Currier.
The move eliminates the accreditation and standards review committees, which made recommendations to the council of law school accreditation matters and reviewed the accreditation standards, respectively. Those tasks will now be handled by the 21-member council. Proponents for the move say that the new structure will not only save money but will allow the council to take swifter action to identify and sanction campuses that run afoul of the accreditation standards.
And the decision to increase the number of credit hours J.D. students may take online was welcome news to legal academics who have been pushing for more distance education. The previous rule limited student to taking no more than 15 credits online, but they may now take up to a third of their credits via distance education. (That amount to between 28 and 30 credits at most schools.) Ten of those online credits may be taken during the 1L year—which was previously prohibited.
Roy Strom contributed reporting for this story.