SAN FRANCISCO — Rightly or not, the LSAT has been king in law school admissions. Now, UC-Berkeley School of Law researchers say they have identified tests that could be used along with it to better predict success in the practice of law. And the law school’s dean is trying to round up support from other schools to take the research to a national level.
Roughly 10 years have passed since Berkeley law professor Marjorie Shultz set out to find a more complete way to test students for admission to law school. This fall, she and Berkeley psychology professor Sheldon Zedeck have wrapped up their findings in a 100-page report, now available on the law school’s Web site. They say the LSAT, with its focus on cognitive skills, does not measure for skills such as creativity, negotiation, problem-solving or stress management, but that they have found promising new and existing tests from the employment context that do.
Based on the results — which they stress are preliminary — the two researchers have recommended that the Law School Admission Council help fund a larger study on a national scale. Berkeley’s law school also needs to identify new investigators to head the project, said Shultz, who retired in July.
On Monday, Berkeley law school Dean Christopher Edley posted a message to a listserv for deans at ABA-accredited law schools highlighting some of the findings, and asking for support in building a case to expand the project.
The research so far, in which more than 7,000 attorneys have participated, investigated whether lawyer effectiveness can be predicted at the time of application to law school, Edley wrote in his memo to deans. “Building on tools developed for employment selection, the research conducted at the Berkeley and Hastings law schools identified and validated a number of test methods that could be added to current admission decision-making,” Edley wrote. Moreover, there appears to be a potential to boost diversity among law students, he wrote.
The LSAC is looking at the study and will be working with Berkeley to come up with a research plan and funding, LSAC spokeswoman Wendy Margolis said Wednesday.
“The driver is seeing if there are any non-cognitive factors that might have a potential bearing on success in law school or the legal profession,” she said. “We’re interested in making sure that we’re not missing any kind of measurement that might be useful.”
In earlier phases of their study, Shultz and Zedeck identified 26 factors that contribute to a lawyer’s effectiveness, such as negotiating skills, problem-solving and stress management. They then identified and developed tests and had practicing attorneys take them to see how their answers lined up with their employers’ and peers’ assessment of them in those areas.
“We know that many times minority students in school don’t perform as well as whites if you look at it as a group, if you look at test taking and grades. But there don’t appear to be significant racial differences in performing in factors like problem-solving, negotiation or advocacy based on our sample data,” Shultz said. “Our test shows that, and earlier research in the employment field also supports that.”
Jeffrey Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, said that the research is welcome. Brand, who read Edley’s message but has yet to read through the underlying data, said that passing the bar exam is clearly important.
“But we also need lawyers with the kind of skill sets that the world needs — like empathy, persuasiveness and the willingness to have the courage to do the right thing — which the LSAT does not measure,” Brand said. The timing is especially ripe, he added, in light of all the rankings that emphasize the LSAT, “which, even though we know it’s got its limitations, becomes all powerful.”
Berkeley’s Shultz said that LSAC funded the project with $400,000 in its first four years. Berkeley Law funded it in the later phase, and the effort “operated on a shoestring,” she added. LSAC is just one possibility for funding. Shultz said she’s also reached out to the nonprofit American Bar Foundation to gauge its interest.
Dean Alan Ramo at Golden Gate University School of Law said that he’s already sent his message of support to Edley. He said that at Golden Gate, measures like the LSAT and GPA have proven to be good predictors of bar passage as well as performance while students are in law school. But other tests may better predict skills needed to practice law, he said.