Plan to drop law school entry exam requirement withdrawn before ABA House vote

Annual Meeting


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The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar withdrew a resolution before the ABA House of Delegates on Monday that called for cutting Standard 503, which requires an exam for law school admission, and beefing up Standard 501 to include the use of admission credentials and academic attrition when determining accreditation compliance.

The proposal was part of a packet of resolutions involving the section and its council.

The current version of Standard 503 requires that law schools using alternate admissions tests to the LSAT demonstrate that the alternate exams are valid and reliable in determining whether a candidate can successfully complete the school’s legal education program.

According to a September 2017 Kaplan Test Prep survey of 128 law schools, 25 percent of schools indicated that they plan to implement using the GRE test in admissions, while other law schools have said they also will consider GMAT scores.

On Friday, the Young Lawyers Division Assembly voted against changing the test requirement. And as Monday’s House session began, a March 2018 letter was circulated on the House floor from the Minority Network, a group of law school admissions professionals, saying the LSAT is better than any other admissions test in predicting whether a candidate will succeed in law school.

“We agree outcomes are important,” the letter said, “but if the outcomes include removing objective measures of student potential for success, and if outcomes include the potential for students who do gain access to law school to amass life-changing debt before they discover they may not succeed in passing the bar, gain employment or vet a sincere interest in the law, then we believe a departure from Standard 503 could cause great harm to students in general.”

It was signed by 36 people, including admissions personnel from law schools at Howard University, the University of California at Irvine and Boston College.

“We are withdrawing that resolution today after consultation with leadership of our section,” said U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., a legal education council member in Cleveland’s Northern District of Ohio, “in light of concerns we’ve heard from members of the House over the last two days.”

And Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education, said in a statement: “The concerns that our delegates heard from other members of the House will be reported to the council, and the council will determine how it wishes to proceed.”

The Educational Testing Service designs and administers the GRE, and a broad range of schools have participated in its national validity study, David G. Payne, ETS’ vice president and chief operating officer of global education, wrote in a statement.

“Schools can still use that information as part of their evaluation regarding whether the GRE test is a reliable and valid tool for their use. ETS is happy to speak with those interested in learning more about the available data, and we will continue to stand behind our mission to help advance access, quality and equity in education,” he wrote.

It was reported in 2017 that ETS began the study in 2015, with the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

Kellye Y. Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, said: “Today’s decision gives us all time to work together to consider how to proceed in the best interests of applicants and law schools to promote access and equity in law school admission. While law school applications are on the upswing, LSAC is eager to partner with our member schools to provide greater flexibility and creativity in admissions while ensuring fairness, access and transparency for all candidates. Likewise, we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the section on legal education to provide the clarity and guidance our member schools seek with respect to admission practices.”

Under ABA rules, standards revisions go to the House of Delegates. The House can send a proposed rule back to the council twice for review with or without recommendations. But the council has the final decision on matters related to law school accreditation.

The House also voted to accept a reorganization plan for the legal education section in which its council will absorb the accreditation committee and the standards review committee. And the House concurred with the following proposed standards revisions:

  • Change language in Standard 303, which focuses on curriculum, and Standard 304, which addresses experiential courses, to make clear that the classes be “primarily experiential in nature,” and that direct supervision from faculty is required for simulation and clinic courses, as well as field placements.
  • Delete language in Standard 601, which addresses law school libraries, that requires written assessments of the facilities during the accreditation process.
  • Change language in Standard 306 to allow up to one-third of credits to be obtained through distance education, and the option of giving 10 online credits for first-year curriculum. The current version limits online credits to 15 unless the section gives a law school leeway for more.

Concern was expressed about the distance education proposal, and a motion to break up the resolution to separate votes on proposed standards was introduced by House member Estelle H. Rogers, a delegate for the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Her motion failed 194-188.

“There’s a concern [whether] loosening the standards on distance learning is a good thing for legal education and students,” she said, while recognizing that for some people it could be easier to attend law school through a distance education program. “Just because it’s easier doesn’t make it good.”

Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor who represents the criminal justice section in the House, spoke in favor of loosening distance education rules.

“This is a good thing, and it’s about time that the bar was innovative when it came to legal education,” he said.

Follow along with our full coverage of the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting.

Updated Aug. 7 to add statement from David Payne.

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