The flight from merit continues across America, and it’s spreading fast in the legal profession. An arm of the American Bar Association (ABA), which accredits law schools, voted on Nov. 18 to end the requirement that prospective law students take the Law School Admission Test. And here we thought torturing prospective lawyers was a widely accepted public good.
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The vote is pending approval from the ABA House of Delegates in February. If adopted, it would make standardized testing optional in preparation for a career that demands a lot of standardized knowledge.
The LSAT has long been a target of diversity advocates who argue that the use of the test has limited minority enrollment in law schools because the test questions are allegedly biased in favor of white test takers. Detractors also object to the LSAT because affluent students often pay thousands of dollars to prepare for the test that is supposed to predict their first-year law school performance.
The ABA decision is best understood as an attempt to get ahead of a possible Supreme Court decision against the use of racial preferences in school admissions. By making the LSAT optional, schools will be able to admit the students they want without lowering the average LSAT score that is one measure of elite status. But the schools need the ABA to move first.
The irony is that giving up the LSAT is likely to harm students from less privileged backgrounds. In September, 60 law school deans—including Berkeley
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky,
Loyola University Chicago
Dean Michèle Alexandre
and Boston University’s
—wrote the ABA to oppose making the admissions test optional on grounds that it would damage diversity.
Removing standardized tests, the deans explained, requires admissions to focus more on grade-point average and other factors that are even less objective. The LSAT “index score can help identify students who are capable of performing at a satisfactory level, even though their grades alone and other indicia would not so indicate,” the letter notes. That applies especially to students from “less advantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups.”
Like most professions, law incorporates a range of skills, from logical thinking to business development and effective presentation that can’t all be predicted on a test. But memorization, performing under pressure and being able to think through problems are relevant qualifications for being a lawyer.
Without an LSAT, untested law students will arrive at law school less prepared for the material, as well as less experienced with a rigorous testing format when they have to pass the bar exam in a few years. That is, if critics don’t next target the bar exam for elimination.
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