Our world has an ever-increasing need for competent lawyers who respect and are committed to protecting the rule of law. The rule of law preserves and promotes a just and prosperous world. Law-trained individuals are creative problem-solvers who serve society in all areas of law, business, public service and other disciplines. Despite recognition of a widening justice gap, however, the number of students pursuing legal education has been declining, particularly since the Great Recession. Our nation’s law schools are rightly concerned and are looking for ways to responsibly increase the number of people being admitted to and succeeding in law school.
For 70 years, the Law School Admission Council, a nonprofit organization whose members are law schools in the United States, Canada, and Australia, has been dedicated to producing products and services to ease the admission process for law schools and their applicants. The Council’s first product was the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). According to the History of the Law School Admission Council and the LSAT, which was published on the 50th anniversary of the LSAT, the criteria for the new “law capacity test” included “high predictive value defined as a correlation coefficient of .70 or higher, discrete measure of capacity for law study insofar as that capacity can be isolated, high reliability, sensible and observable relation to the study of law, results easy to interpret, and low cost.” These criteria established a high quality, thoughtfully evolving instrument that has served legal education admirably for seven decades.
The LSAT has been the required test for admission to law school because it is designed to test skills that are essential to success in law school and in the legal profession: analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, reading comprehension, and writing. The test has been consistently proven to be effective in testing these essential skills. Recently, a handful of schools have announced that they will now admit students to law school based on either GRE (Graduate Record Exam) scores or LSAT scores. These schools have expressed the goal of expanding access to legal education, and their hope is that additional students from science, technology, engineering and math, or “STEM” or other disciplines might be attracted to law school if the GRE is another option for admission.
Enhancing access to legal education is a laudable goal, and one that I share. For decades, I have worked hard to increase diversity in the legal profession and to expand understanding of the importance of the rule of law for our world. Indeed, my decision to join LSAC in July as its new president was motivated by my desire to align my work with an organization that has long been a nationwide leader on behalf of quality and diversity in legal education. As a law school dean for almost 15 years myself, I well understand the environment and pressures law school leaders are facing.
In this environment, LSAC is prioritizing two goals. One is being of service to our member schools to help them evaluate alternative admission tests such as the GRE. While the GRE is an excellent test to assess the suitability of applicants for graduate study across many areas, it was not designed for law school admission, and there has not been a full-scale, long-range study of whether the GRE is a valid measure for success in law school. It would be a grave disservice to both law schools and applicants to admit students who do not possess the skills necessary to succeed in law school and in the legal profession. Like the law schools we serve, LSAC wants to make law school admission more accessible without sacrificing the quality and integrity the legal profession deserves. More dialogue and study is needed, and LSAC has the expertise to be an active participant in this discussion.
A second core goal is to open dialogue with law school leaders to understand how LSAC can further improve its products and services to best assist them in meeting today’s challenges. In addition to the LSAT, LSAC develops and supports the systems and software that help candidates affordably and conveniently apply to multiple schools and that help law schools conduct a fair and efficient admission process. LSAC also serves as a primary admission data aggregator for legal education, measuring applicant and application volume and trends, including diversity, gender, undergraduate majors, LSAT scores, and other statistics, and providing regular data reports to law schools. We are already working to make the LSAT more accessible while preserving its quality and security. We also want to work with law schools to ensure that they can conveniently obtain the data and other services they need.
Our profession continues to change as the result of technological innovation, globalization, and other forces, and LSAC is changing right along with it. We have new leadership, new energy, and a renewed sense of purpose. We are innovating to meet today’s needs and anticipate tomorrow’s requirements. And while we remain proud of our history, we are not bound by it. Our task has never been more urgent. Together with our member schools, we are the gateway to the legal profession, and we know that our world depends upon all of us to inspire and educate diverse, effective leaders for justice.
Kellye Testy is president and chief executive officer of the Law School Admission Council.