The ABA is again trying to end LSAT requirements. Will it stick this time?

Law schools may no longer have to require applicants to provide standardized exam scores including the Law School Admission Test under a recommendation being considered by the American Bar Association.

The ABA will vet the proposal, made by one of its committees, at a public meeting later this month, though it is still subject to several more layers of approval.

Dropping entrance exam mandates would represent a seismic shift in law schools’ long-standing admissions procedures. Top-ranked schools weigh a high LSAT score heavily when vetting applicants. Until November, it was the only admissions test the ABA explicitly allowed its recognized law schools to use. 

The ABA proposal comes as a national campaign to demolish testing-related barriers for underrepresented college applicants has swept undergraduate admissions. Proponents of nixing LSAT requirements say doing so could similarly help diversify applicant pools. 

However, shattering an admissions culture largely centered on LSAT scores could prove challenging. In recent years, more than 100,000 hopefuls have taken the LSAT annually — and law schools wouldn’t have to abandon the test under the proposal. The ABA also attempted to end its standardized assessment rules in 2018, but it backed down amid concerns that removing them would disadvantage vulnerable applicants who could validate their academic prowess through an objective measure. 

What is the ABA doing?

The ABA’s Strategic Review Committee has recommended the organization — which accredits about 200 U.S. law schools — change its standard requiring a “valid and reliable” admissions exam. 

The LSAT was the de facto choice to meet this demand, though some colleges experimented with allowing the Graduate Record Examination instead. The ABA in November greenlit all of its law schools to use the GRE.

Standard 503, as it’s known in the ABA’s rulebook, has long come under scrutiny, drawing accusations it obstructs law school candidates who might not meet the traditional profile. 

Research published in the New York University Law Review in 2020 found the policy in recent decades morphed into “a significant barrier to entry with disparate negative impacts on” students who are from racial minority groups, women, low-income applicants and those with disabilities.

Another study, appearing in Florida International University’s law review in 2019, said that the average LSAT score for Black students was 142, versus 153 for White and Asian test-takers. The maximum score is 180. 

The ABA committee said in a public memo that moving away from a mandate would eliminate “some of the challenges inherent in determining which tests are in fact valid and reliable for law school admissions.” It noted the ABA remains the only accreditor among those for law, medical, dental, pharmacy, business and architecture schools still requiring an admissions test.

On May 20, one ABA governing body, the Council of the Section of Legal Education Admissions to the Bar, is scheduled to decide whether to open the proposal to public comment. The committee would then examine this feedback and debate whether to suggest revisions, Bill Adams, managing director of ABA accreditation and legal education, said in an emailed statement. Another governing panel, the ABA House of Delegates, would also review the proposal, but the final decision rests with the council, Adams said. 

A timeline for a final policy change is uncertain. 

What are people saying?

This move is significant on the equity and access front, according to Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, an organization advocating for minimal reliance on standardized exams. 

That’s because the ABA and the Law School Admission Council, or LSAC, which administers the LSAT, “have been among the most resistant to changing testing policies of all the gatekeepers to higher education,” Schaeffer said in an email. 

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