LSAT Optional: Law Schools Finally Do Something Original

Law schools are in trouble. For a few years they could count on a steady stream of eager college graduates who thought of law school as a responsible way to get a stable career. And then the Great Recession hit, and the demand for lawyers plummeted.

The number of law school applicants declined, dramatically, and it’s hard for many schools, particularly the lower ranked ones, to attract students.

A few law schools are trying to reverse the trend. According to this piece in the Huffington Post:

The State University of New York-Buffalo Law School as well as the University of Iowa College of Law recently announced that they would not require applicants to submit an LSAT score. This comes on the heels of an August ruling by the American Bar Association that permits U.S. law schools to fill up to 10 percent of their class with students who haven’t taken the LSAT provided they ranked highly in college and did well on other standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT or GMAT.

While the choice could increase the volume of applicants — a struggle law schools have been facing as of late — as well as cut costs for prospective students, the potential drawbacks may outweigh the positives.

Elie Mystal, the editor at Above The Law, argued that this is going to be a problem. “The LSAT actually protects students in terms of helping them understand if they’re going to be good or not at law school,” he said.

Well, maybe. But we’ve had lawyers for thousands of years. And while the LSAT might vaguely indicate something about the ability to study law, we’ve only had the standardized test since 1948. People attended law school, and succeeded as lawyers, without having to take the grueling, $165 test.

But will this trend catch on? Probably not.

At this point it seems to be pretty limited (and only University of Iowa is first tier*). And, as with the standardized tests high school students obsess about when they apply to college, the real point of standardized testing for admission purposes is not to determine who can really perform academically (most people who apply and have reasonably good grades and essays can). The real purpose is to give academic institutions an easy way to reject people.

The difference between a 159 and a 162 on the LSAT means absolutely nothing in terms of the grades someone might earn in law school, and the sort of lawyer he might become, but it’s really, really useful way for admissions officers to make what could otherwise be a really difficult decision about who to admit pretty easy.

*Yeah, I know. The Washington Monthly has long been critical of America’s College ranking system. And it is kinda BS. But law school is a professional development project, and an incredibly expensive one at that. The ranking of one’s law school is really, really important, because it matters a lot for job placement.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer