June 24, 2024


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American Bar Association weighs cutting admissions test requirement for law schools

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Law schools would be given a green light to end admission test requirements, under a recommendation from a key committee of the American Bar Association that is scheduled for review in a public meeting this month.

The proposal still faces layers of scrutiny within the ABA and would not take effect until next year at the earliest. If approved, it could challenge the long-dominant role of the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, in the pathway to legal education.

On May 20, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is scheduled to consider a recommendation from its Strategic Review Committee to allow test-optional admissions. The council is the national accreditor for nearly 200 law schools.

The recommendation on testing, dated April 25, is straightforward: “A law school may use admission tests as part of sound admission practices and policies. The law school shall identify in its admission policies any tests it accepts.”

Current ABA standards state that law schools “shall require” applicants for first-year admission to submit scores from a “valid and reliable admission test.”

Admission testing for higher education has been in flux in recent years, in large part because of disruptions to testing in 2020 and 2021 that coincided with shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. At the undergraduate level, most colleges and universities have ended admissions testing requirements or suspended them temporarily.

Harvard makes SAT and ACT optional through 2026

Questions have also emerged about law school testing. Some predate the pandemic. In 2017, Harvard Law School announced it would no longer require LSAT scores for admission and would accept, as an alternative, scores from the Graduate Record Examination. Dozens of law schools now accept either LSAT or GRE scores.

But the LSAT remains the leading test for legal admissions. More than 100,000 potential applicants a year take it. Through a timed, multiple-choice format, it assesses skills in reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning. A second part of the LSAT requires a written essay.

Whether the ABA’s council will ditch the testing requirement remains to be seen. “Issues concerning admission policies have been of concern to the Council for several years,” Bill Adams, managing director of ABA accreditation and legal education, said in a statement Friday. He added that the accrediting body will discuss the recommendation at its May 20 meeting and whether to circulate it to obtain further comment.

The Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT and is separate from the bar association, said in a statement: “Studies show test-optional policies often work against minoritized individuals, so we hope the ABA will consider these issues very carefully. We believe the LSAT will continue to be a vital tool for schools and applicants for years to come, as it is the most accurate predictor of law school success and a powerful tool for diversity when used properly as one factor in a holistic admission process.”

Robert Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, a group critical of standardized testing requirements, said the ABA has long been viewed as a supporter of admissions testing. “Saying it’s up to the law schools would be a wholesale change,” Schaeffer said.

The University of Arizona’s law school has pushed the ABA in recent years to allow test-optional admissions. In 2018, U-Arizona law dean Marc L. Miller said in a statement: “By focusing more on the quality and outcomes of legal education instead of mandating the use of specific measures of potential that are incomplete at best, law schools will be in line with other professional schools and can better serve students and the profession by admitting and educating capable candidates with broad backgrounds and qualifications.”