The Future of Law School Admissions Without LSAT — or Any Standardized Tests — is in Sight

On April 25, 2022, the Strategic Review Committee of the American Bar Association (ABA) released a memorandum recommending law schools stop requiring standardized tests, such as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), for their admissions.

Ever since its first administration in 1948, the LSAT has continuously exerted exceptional influence on many aspects of law schools. Unlike college admissions, standardized test scores (i.e., LSAT) have been the single most dominant factor for applicants to care for in their application process, followed closely by undergraduate GPA. Law schools have also paid extensive attention to the median LSAT score of its entering class, for it significantly affects the infamous and yet influential US News & World Report’s law school ranking.

Colin Diver, a former dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1989 to 1999, well describes in his opinion article how much colleges and law schools have been — and still are — heavily occupied with the rankings. He wrote, “Each upward movement [in the rankings] would be a cause for momentary exultation; each downward movement, a cause for distress.” He also provided an anecdotal example that shows law school faculties keeping a close record of their rankings. He said, “Each year, Penn’s president would proudly present to the Board of Trustees a list of the university’s schools whose ranking numbers had improved. (She’d make no mention of those whose numbers had slipped.)”

Contrary to the LSAT’s hegemony for over 70 years, it has been less than seven months since the ABA officially allowed applicants to submit GRE scores for law school admissions. The committee’s decision startled many schools that have only recently started to receive GRE scores for admissions and to applicants who have consequently been considering taking the test.

The American Bar Association (ABA) officially decided to allow law schools to accept GRE scores for admissions in November 2021. Now, the association is considering eliminating standardized test requirements from its rulebook entirely. Photo: Tony Webster / Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bill Adams, the managing director of accreditation and legal education for the ABA, wrote in a statement, “Issues concerning admission policies have been of concern to the council for several years.” Other officials of the association also noted that in the process of policy decisions, they are more concerned with how students fare in law schools than their performance on standardized tests.

However, Adams noted that removing standardized test requirements for admissions has not yet been finalized by the ABA. He said, “Any final decision rests with the council [the association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar].” Even if the council accepts the committee’s recommendation, there are a few more steps for the change to be put into practice; the council will receive public comments and then deliver its decision to the House of Delegates for another review before the legislative body ultimately sets out a new official policy.

Although the decision may start affecting students enrolling in the fall of 2023 at the earliest, it is explicitly stated in the committee’s memo that “law school of course remain free to require a test if they wish.”

The committee suggested an alternative to test-focused admissions in its memo, for when the schools decide to act in accordance with the decision. It said that law school could put more emphasis on applicants’ “undergraduate course of study and grade point average, extracurricular activities, work experience, performance in other graduate or professional programs, relevant demonstrated skills, and obstacles overcome.”

Following the committee’s decision, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), a nonprofit organization that administers the LSAT, responded that it hopes “the A.B.A. will consider these issues very carefully.” It also added, “We believe the LSAT will continue to be a vital tool for schools and applicants for years to come … [as the test 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.”

Harvard Law School was one of the first few legal education institutions in the U.S. to start accepting the GRE test scores for admissions. The school’s decision was about four years ahead of the ABA’s official decision to allow GRE score submission by law school applicants. Photo: Harvard Law School

The ABA’s decision to remove the standardized test score requirement for law school admissions appears to be following a similar trend in college admissions. The California State University system has recently become the largest four-year university system in the U.S. to forgo standardized test requirements for its admissions, following the University of California system’s decision to do the same a year before.

Such a trend echoed throughout the nation — the process of which has been accelerated due to the pandemic. As Covid-19 still greatly disturbs the lives of billions across the globe, an extensive list of colleges, including all eight Ivy League schools, have extended their decision to stop requiring SAT or ACT scores in their admissions for the 2022-23 application cycle. Of them, Harvard University, the prestigious symbol of American higher education, made a notable decision to remain test-optional through at least fall 2026.

Some support the committee’s decision, arguing that more affluent students with the ability to afford a prep course or private coaching for the test have an unfair advantage — irrelevant to academic abilities — over less wealthy students. On the other hand, some others argue that the test requirement for admissions is necessary as a minimum barrier to entry. Specifically, they opine that the difficult entrance exam works as a tool to discourage “weaker applicants” from spending their time and money in vain on law school.

While the effectiveness of standardized tests as a barrier and their accuracy in predicting students’ performance after matriculation continue to be fiercely debated, the future of law school admissions — with or without any standardized tests — may be decided within months. The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar agreed last week on May 20 to receive public comments before it meets again in November. As previously described, the committee’s decision will be reviewed once more by the ABA’s House of Delegates before the change takes effect.


Read More: No More SAT/ACT for CSU Admissions