Despite my consistent exhortations that people should do as well as possible on the LSAT, I don’t think the LSAT is a particularly useful test. The LSAT, like all other standardized tests, is really an examination of past performance and learned ability to take the test. It doesn’t measure “raw” intelligence, however you want to define that term. It measures your ability to take the LSAT.

I had thought that your ability to do well on the LSAT would be predict your ability to do well on the bar exam. Again, not because of any intelligence measuring, but just because people who are good at standardized tests tend to continue to be good at standardized tests.

But perhaps I’ve been wrong. A new study suggests that LSAT performance isn’t the best indicator of future bar passage. Instead, passing the bar has a more direct correlation with your law school grades…

It should come as no surprise that your undergraduate GPA has very little to do with whether or not you are going to pass the bar. I did well in “Intro to Why You Should Never Marry A Woman Who Loves Jane Austen” too. But I think we can all see how running up the score in undergrad has little to do with one’s ability to handle the bar exam.

But for all the criticism that law schools are not teaching practical skills or producing practice-ready lawyers, it turns out that doing well in these law school classes is the best predictor of whether or not you are going to pass the legal licensing exam. Tax Prof Blog’s Paul Caron summarizes a new paper from Nicholas L. Georgakopoulos of the IU-Indy law school:

Probit regressions of bar passage on law GPA, undergraduate GPA (uGPA) and LSAT show GPA to have a very strong relation, LSAT a weaker one, and uGPA not to have any relation. 1L and upperclass GPA both have strong predictive power, favoring an interpretation of significant learning in small and elective courses compared to the mandated large ones of the first year. Linear regressions of GPA on uGPA and LSAT show a noisy relation to exist only for first-time bar exam takers, none for 2nd time takers. Analysis of bar review courses does not show the choice among them to have consequence. Possible interpretations favor legal education over innate skill and the training in legal analysis over memorization.

That’s pretty surprising. I definitely would have thought that the bar exam favors the rote memorization process over legal analysis. But I suppose that one of the key skills you need for the bar is information prioritization. My favorite bar exam questions where the ones that were like “Jimmy drove a defective car that caused it to accelerate when he pressed the breaks. This made him speed through a red light and BLAH BLAH BLAH, drunk person, faulty pace-maker, hurricanes, death, Martians, BLAH BLAH. Who is at fault?” They tell you right in the question who’s at fault (it’s the car maker) but they flood your brain with a bunch of useless information designed to confuse you. If you are good at analyzing cases, such questions don’t trip you up; if you are good at memorizing various theories of force majeure, you wrap yourself up in irrelevancy and get the question wrong.

Now, people argue that the bar itself is a poor test of what practice-ready lawyers need to know in order to represent clients, and I’m inclined to agree with those people. But as long as we use the bar exam as the gatekeeping mechanism for the legal profession, this study seems like a “win” for the standard way of approaching legal education. You can ask law schools to do many things, but preparing people to pass the bar exam is surely one of them.

My takeaway is that law schools might want to look at something besides undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores when deciding whom to admit. But we know law schools are first and foremost concerned with what U.S. News thinks, not what may or may not be the best way to pick students who will go on to be successful on the bar exam.

Law School GPA Trumps LSAT, Undergraduate GPA, and Bar Review Courses as Bar Passage Predictor [Tax Prof Blog]
Bar Passage: GPA and LSAT, Not Bar Reviews [SSRN]


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