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Posted June 4, 2010

Ortiz Chairs a Growing Law School Admission Council

Dan Ortiz

As law school admissions officials from across the country gather in Florida this week to attend a conference hosted by the Law School Admission Council, they’ll see a face familiar to the Law School. The nonprofit LSAC, which administers the LSAT to prospective law students, is chaired by University of Virginia law professor Dan Ortiz.

“The chair functions as the chair of the board of directors would in a for-profit organization — just helping the board make sure that things are taken care of that need to be taken care of, that people who were hired to do the day-to-day management are doing a good job, and that the organization never loses sight of the big picture,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz is entering his second year as chair of the LSAC, which also provides a number of admission-related services to more than 200 law schools in the United States, Canada and Australia. He is involved in a number of initiatives that are part of the LSAC’s strategic goals, from expanding services to law schools abroad to increasing diversity in the law school applicant pool.

The organization has become a critical gateway to law school over the years. The number of LSATs administered increased 13 percent during 2009-10, to more than 171,000. With a struggling economy, law schools are also receiving record numbers of applications, and this year marked a 7 percent increase nationwide. Many of those who apply use LSAC’s website to manage their applications to multiple law schools.

“You want the organization to be the best it can be,” Ortiz said. “It’s very well-run, and you want it to continue to provide the best services it can to law schools and law applicants.”

Ortiz is the second chair of LSAC from the Law School in recent years. Professor Alex Johnson has also served as chair of the Board of Trustees.

“Personally I’m very interested in revisiting the governance of the whole organization. How it works, the role of volunteers and the law schools, how the law schools interact with the people at the headquarters,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz has been involved with LSAC since the mid-1990s, including serving on four standing committees and five years on the LSAC board. He was elected chair-elect of the board in 2008. Since he began volunteering with the LSAC, he has seen the 300-employee organization grow, including its presence abroad.

“People tend to think of the LSAC as an American organization — it’s not really,” Ortiz said.

In addition to its Canadian and Australian member schools, more foreign schools have grown interested in what the nonprofit can offer. Some schools in China and India already require applicants to take the LSAT, or versions of it.

“We’re now experimenting with licensing LSAT questions for translation into other languages, like Korean,” he said. “We’re exploring new markets with our existing exam and exploring developing new products for new markets.”

LSAC has launched new services available in the United States as well. “Evaluations” provides a way of assessing a law school applicant’s non-cognitive abilities and characteristics that might be relevant to law school. The organization also provides college students with a skills-readiness inventory test, which can help prospective applicants diagnose their weaknesses and strengths as they consider law school.

“It’s meant for self-improvement,” he said. “If people took this in, say, their sophomore year, they might actually have time during the rest of their college career to improve.”

A year ago LSAC launched discoverlaw.org, a site designed to attract and retain the interest of minority and underrepresented applicants. LSAC also funds and subsidizes summer programs designed to help those pre-law college students.

“Other things that we do have been done with an eye towards pulling these people into the law school pipeline. So, for example, we hope that the skills readiness inventory will appeal to people in these populations, and that they’ll be able to diagnose what kinds of weaknesses they might want to address early enough to make themselves better candidates for law school.”

The American Bar Association requires accredited law schools to use a test validated for legal education to evaluate applicants, and generally schools use the LSAT. But the ABA is now reevaluating the standard for requiring a test. Critics of the LSAT suggest that law school admission offices are pressured to admit only those who perform well on the test because it factors into U.S. News rankings.

Ortiz said a tentative ABA proposal will be subject to comment in the next year.
“It’s the best test out there among them all for predicting how well people will do once they get into their school. It can, however, be overused, and overuse is a form of misuse,” Ortiz said. “We very much caution people not to over-rely on it.”