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ABA committee proposes making law school admissions tests optional

The American Bar Association is entertaining a bold question for a profession known for its exams: Should standardized tests be required for admission to law school?

At its meeting last week, the Standards Review Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Bar Admissions discussed a proposal that would make the LSAT and potentially other standardized tests optional as a condition to get into law school.

Under the current rules, the ABA requires accredited schools use a “valid and reliable test.” That parameter has been questioned by law schools over the past few years as some institutions consider other tests that may fit the ABA’s conditions. The James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, in February 2016, became the first law school to announce it would accept the GRE for incoming law students. Some top law schools followed suit, including Harvard and Northwestern.

While law schools across the country have been using the LSAT for admissions for nearly 70 years, the ABA leadership never formally said the exam meets its “valid and reliable” standard. Law schools have also had different experiences with the exam, the ABA’s Standards Review Committee said in a recap of its recent meeting.

While the rule change has to go through various ABA bodies before becoming official, the Standard Review Committee’s decision signals law schools could have the opportunity to revisit their admissions practices.

“The ABA standards are important to every law school so we watch what they do very closely,” said Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

However, both Maryland law schools said their admissions standards need a metric that helps measure all students on the same scale.

“An admissions test like the LSAT is used to determine whether the student and the school will be successful,” said Donald Tobin dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. If the school stopped requiring the LSAT, he added, it would need another metric to replace that factor in its admissions analysis.

UB Law would likely continue to require some form of admissions test, Weich said.

“We would proceed very cautiously,” he said. “Admissions tests serve a purpose to help us decide which applicants have the skills to succeed in law school and the bar exam.”

At a public hearing held the day before the committee meeting, the companies that administer the LSAT and the GRE talked about the value of the exams in the law school admissions process. The next day, the ABA section council’s chair recognized the organization needed to discuss the matter, saying the “the current situation is not tenable, and we can’t go on (without the council addressing it).”

“There have been discussions over the last several years about alternative tests to the LSAT and whether or not the LSAT is the best test for law school admissions,” Tobin said. “To me, this is a further examination of those issues.”

While committee members expect law schools to continue using a standardized test, the rule change could make room for creativity in the admissions process.

“We clearly will examine any ABA rules change to see how that impacts our processes,” Tobin said.

Officially, the Standards Review Committee considered an “explainer” for Standard 501 of the ABA rules that would create a rebuttable presumption that a law school was not in compliance with admissions standards if it did not require a standardized test. If that change was implemented then Standard 503, the ABA rule requiring an admissions test, would be eliminated, the ABA committee said.

The ABA section council will consider the Standard Review Committee’s proposal at its meeting next month in Washington. If the council approves the changes to the ABA rules, the matter will go before the ABA House of Delegates in August.

Anamika Roy is an evening student at UM Carey.

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