Eliminating LSAT in Law School Admissions Would Not Boost Diversity, Panel Says

Diversity Conference

Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, listens as Professor Alex Johnson speaks at the panel discussion, "Eliminating the LSAT in Law School Admissions: A Boon or Detriment to the Diversificiation of the Legal Profession?"

November 14, 2011

Abandoning the LSAT would probably not increase diversity at law schools, a panel of experts in law school admissions said Friday at the University of Virginia School of Law.

UVA law professor Alex Johnson, a past chair of the Board of Trustees of the Law School Admissions Council, said he worries that scrapping the LSAT might lead admissions officers to emphasize less-objective measures — such as who the applicants know, where they went to college and what they studied — and thereby potentially resulting in less diversity.

"At least today the LSAT allows a student with a [good] score to say, 'I can compete, no matter what I majored in, no matter what school I went to, no matter what background I have,'" Johnson said. "It levels the playing field and at least gives you an opportunity."

Johnson moderated the panel discussion, "Eliminating the LSAT in Law School Admissions: A Boon or Detriment to the Diversification of the Legal Profession?," as part of a conference at the Law School on increasing diversity in the legal field. The conference was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Law, the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association, the UVA Law Student Legal Forum, the University of Virginia School of Law and the Virginia State Bar Conference on Diversity.

The idea that eliminating the LSAT in law school admissions to boost diversity has emerged in part because the median LSAT scores of African-American and Hispanic test takers remain below those of whites, Johnson said. That gap, he added, is evident across all major standardized tests, not just the LSAT.

"No one knows why," he said. "There is no power test where that differential doesn't appear."

Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, cautioned that law schools should not place too much weight on LSAT scores in admissions.

"If schools are too dependent on the LSAT — and, indeed, some of them worship the LSAT in my opinion to too — great a degree — you run the risk of discouraging perfectly qualified lawyers of tomorrow from ever attempting to get into law school," she said.

To be accredited by the American Bar Association, law schools must require each applicant to take a "valid and reliable" admission test to assist the school in assessing the applicant's capability of completing the school's educational program.

This requirement, known as "Standard 503" as outlined in the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools, does not mandate use of the LSAT in particular. And while some schools have considered moving toward alternative admission tests, such as the GMAT or SAT, no other test has emerged with as much validity as the LSAT, Moeser said.

"The GMAT is a perfectly fine test, but you can't make the same assertions about the GMAT that you can with the LSAT," she said. "Personally, I think it would be unfortunate to eliminate its use for purposes of making admissions decisions."

Some have suggested that Standard 503 should be eliminated as part of the ABA's accreditation process, a move that would therefore eliminate the LSAT requirement, as well.

UVA law professor Dan Ortiz, immediate past chair of the Law School Admission Council, said he is skeptical that removing Standard 503 would increase diversity in law schools.

"I don't think abolishing it is going to make much difference in terms of diversity, if that's the hope," he said.

The LSAT, Ortiz added, can be misused by law schools.

Some schools, he said, rely on the LSAT to make predictions about who will or will not go on to pass the bar exam, though the test is not designed to do that.

Additionally, Ortiz said, the importance of U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings create pressure in some admissions offices to overemphasize test scores and thereby impair diversity.

Also at the conference, Justice Cleo Powell '82, the first African-American woman to serve on Virginia's Supreme Court, gave a talk titled "Justice? Unlikely!" (Video)

Virginia Supreme Court Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn '86 spoke Saturday, giving a talk titled "The Value of Diversity on the Bench." (Audio)

Kim Keenan '87, general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, gave a talk Friday evening titled "Pro Bono and Professionalism: Keys to a Winning Career." (Audio)

And Saturday evening, a panel of lawyers — including Kenneth Imo of WilmerHale; Tyree Jones of Reed Smith; Molly Remes of McGuireWoods; and representatives from Foley & Lardner, Sidley Austin, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius — spoke in an open forum, titled "Best Practices Developed by Law Firms: What's Working and Why." (Audio)

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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