This seems to be a question that some prospective law students are asking these days. In order to answer it, I will try to help you determine what has and hasn’t changed with regards to law school admissions and standardized testing requirements without taking you too far into the weeds of law school accreditation. There has been quite a bit of discussion and media reports of law schools seeking alternatives to the use of the LSAT. What is happening?
First, this topic does require some brief background information. The accrediting body for US Law Schools is the American Bar Association (ABA) and the arm of the ABA specifically tasked with accrediting and ensuring compliance with accreditation standards is the “Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.” As an authorized educational accrediting body, the ABA is required to provide standards for the institutions it accredits and insure institutions adhere to those standards. Standards apply to many areas across all law schools – academic standards, curricular standards, etc.
The specific standard at issue here is “Standard 503” which mandates that accredited law schools require applicants to “submit a valid and reliable law school admission test score as part of their application”. The long-standing interpretation of this standard has been that the LSAT is “valid and reliable”. Standard 503 goes on to indicate that if the law school can demonstrate that test(s) other than the LSAT are “valid and reliable”, those test(s) can also/alternatively be utilized in the admissions process.
To be clear – as of the writing of this blog (11/15/17) – this is the standard and therefore the current requirement. Even though eight law schools (as of today) have announced that GRE exam scores can be used for their individual admissions processes, none have actually had their use of the GRE approved by the ABA as “valid and reliable.” In fact, a process to determine if a test is valid and reliable has not even been established by the ABA. So – law schools making such announcements may potentially be at odds with standards (should the standard not be changed).
Having said that, the eight law schools announcing their acceptance of GRE scores are an interesting and notable group: Harvard, Northwestern, Georgetown, Arizona, Hawaii, Washington University (St. Louis), St. John's and Columbia. Especially given the national prominence of some of these schools – it appears unlikely that the ABA would sanction or otherwise penalize schools (or students) for utilizing a somewhat grey area of the standard. But – should the ABA determine that the GRE (or any other test) was not valid and reliable and/or if the standard is not amended or removed – it is clear that admissions utilizing the GRE (and not the LSAT) would need to stop.
There are many opinions regarding the merits vs. the weaknesses of using the LSAT in admissions and, for that matter, in using standardized tests of any nature. There is a tension between recommendations that some champion as ways to diversify the applicant pool with recommendations that others deem will lower the bar for admission to law school. Some fear that lowering the bar for admissions could lead to increasing numbers of individuals taking (and potentially failing) bar exams and/or having difficulty finding employment – all of this in an age of rising student debt loads. Debating these issues is not the intent of this post though – so, let’s get back to the point here - Should you or shouldn’t you take the LSAT?
The answer, is – yes – you still need to take the LSAT. It is a rare student who would only be applying to some combination of the eight law schools mentioned above. And, so, even if you have one other school you want to apply to in the mix, you will need an LSAT score. Additionally, should the ABA rule more definitively on this issue in a way that curtails the use of other standardized tests (like the GRE) – you don’t want to be the one sitting on the sidelines.
On this topic – the ABA issued a “notice for comment” regarding the deletion of Standard 503. It is anticipated that following the comment period the ABA will come to a final resolution on this topic and provide prospective law students and law schools with clarification.
One final thought for you to consider: the way that the standards are currently written - once you take the LSAT, it must be considered, even at schools that allow for the use of the GRE in their admissions process. So – in addition to recommending that you take the LSAT, I recommend that you take it seriously. The score matters – even in cases where it appears that it may not.
This is definitely an evolving issue – so, my advice today may not be the same advice I give you tomorrow! Stay tuned…