Really, it’s a good news/bad news kind of thing. The good news: the ABA committee reviewing the accreditation standards for law schools is starting to remember it has some power over how law schools operate. The bad news: the committee is contemplating a change that will only result in making it easier for schools to recruit any and all with the ability to pay (or go into debt), while at the same time gaming the U.S. News law school rankings.
The latest brain nugget to come from the ABA is a proposal to remove the LSAT requirement for admission into law school. Currently, the committee requires prospective law students to take a “valid and reliable” test. But a number of schools already have a waiver so they can admit their own undergraduates without taking a rankings hit due to low LSAT scores. The new ABA proposal would simply drop the requirement altogether.
I don’t think the LSAT is indicative of whole lot more than one’s ability to study for the LSAT. Being able to take standardized tests is an important skill — at least if you ever want to pass your state bar exam — but it’s not the only skill. From an educational standpoint, I don’t think it really matters if students have to take the LSAT or not.
But given the proliferation of law schools more concerned about generating tuition dollars than preparing the next generation of lawyers, the LSAT exists as one of the few barriers to entry to a profession that is already overrun with applicants. Dropping the requirement is a move in the wrong direction that will only make it easier for diploma mills to churn out the next generation of unemployed, wage-depressing attorneys….
You can see the fundamental tension between what the ABA should be doing versus what it is doing in this statement, published in the National Law Journal:
Much of the committee’s LSAT debate has focused on the proper role of the ABA in the regulation of law school admissions, said Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen, who sits on the standards review committee.
“I think an accrediting body ought to ensure that law schools are producing students who can enter the practice,” he said, noting that he personally is on the fence about the LSAT requirement. “Is taking a standardized test the only way to determine if someone should be able to go to law school? Schools ought to be able to decide how they want to admit students.”
Is the LSAT the “only” way to figure out who should go to law school? No, of course not. Only people who base their sense of self-worth on their standardized test scores believe that the LSAT has any objective relevance to the question of whether or not a person will make a successful attorney.
But Dean Yellen conveniently misses the crucial point: right now, the LSAT is the only way we determine whether or not a person is a good fit for law school. It’s the only thing we’ve got. For the ABA to take that away, replace it with nothing, and then talk about ensuring that “law schools are producing students who can enter the practice,” is a joke. That’s like saying “The Breathalyzer isn’t a very good tool for determining who is too drunk to drive. So now we’re going to let the drunks themselves decide whether or not they should be driving. Because what we really care about is whether or not people make it home safely.”
It would be fine to allow the law schools to decide for themselves which students should be admitted, if the ABA had been doing a good job at deciding which schools should be allowed to become law schools. But since the ABA has been irresponsible with that decision, leaving the admission requirements up to the law schools themselves brings us one step closer to “Can you fill out a loan application? Then come to law school — we’ll even throw in a free toaster!”
Obviously, most respectable institutions will keep the LSAT requirement. The ABA understands this:
“I think most schools would keep it,” Yellen said. “It gives you an indication of how prepared people are for law school. On the other side, getting rid of the test would be yet another way for law schools to game the U.S. News rankings, but I don’t think the ABA should take U.S. News into account when making these decisions.”
(I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t hear Dean Yellen blithely say that U.S. News — the thing that law students and law schools pay the most attention to — wasn’t something the ABA should take into account. I’m just going to pretend the ABA didn’t just say that its response to the immense power a for-profit magazine has over legal education in America is to IGNORE it.)
Again, Dean Yellen either misses or is willfully ignorant of the most important point here. We’re not worried about the vast majority of law schools who will keep the LSAT. We’re worried about the few law school administrations that will gladly drop it. We’re worried about their motivations for dropping it. We’re worried about the students who will be admitted and charged full price simply because they can pay full price and not because they have any shot at being licensed attorneys. We’re worried about the schools that will have no incentive to attract the best possible students (however defined) and are instead free to go after the most gullible students.
I mean, does the ABA really want every lower ranked law school to turn into Thomas Cooley? Do they want unimaginable numbers of 1Ls to be admitted so they can fork over a year’s worth of tuition, even as the administrators know full well that many of them have no hope of actually completing the program — and that even if they do, there will be no market for their legal skills? Is that what Dean Yellen is going for? Because that’s what’s going to happen if you take away the LSAT and replace it with no other objective measure of merit (and I don’t even think that LSAT is all that objective). You can talk all you want about how schools should have a choice about who is ready to attend, but do you have an answer for the schools who say: “Everybody. Everybody is ready to attend law school. We will not turn away a single human being — or even a well trained non-human — so long as they can get a loan or find some other means of paying tuition.”
I don’t think the ABA has an answer for schools that operate like that. I don’t think they even know what those schools look like when they are staring the ABA in its face.
The LSAT’s existence is sometimes grotesque and incomprehensible to me — but I want the LSAT on that wall, I need the LSAT on that wall.