Why the ABA’s Latest LSAT Proposal is a Bad Idea

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The ABA might make it easier for certain applicants to get into law school without taking the LSAT.

Currently, you don’t really need to take the LSAT to get into law school. A law school can admit an applicant using some other admissions test, but it has to get permission first or pay a fine later. This alternative admissions procedure is rarely used, which is probably why you haven’t heard of it.

The ABA is thinking about implementing the following changes to its LSAT requirement:

Up to 10% of a law school’s class may be admitted without an LSAT score.

You can qualify for admissions without an LSAT if, (1) you are an undergraduate looking to apply to your alma mater’s law school, or (2) you want to get some sort of joint degree like a JD-MBA.

If you fall into either group, you will also need to have scored at or above the 85th percentile on a standardized college or graduate admissions test like the SAT, GRE or GMAT. You will also need to have at least a 3.5 UGPA or be in the top 10% of your undergraduate class.

So if these changes are actually implemented, what will this mean for law school admissions?

Not much. The incentives are strongly stacked against using the non-LSAT admissions process to any significant extent for both applicants and law schools.

Let’s assume that law schools care about the quality of their student body. They have years of data and experience predicting how an applicant will perform in their program given a UGPA and an LSAT score. They don’t have this benefit when it comes to the other college or graduate admissions test scores. So an applicant without an LSAT score is more of a risk than an applicant with an LSAT score. It’s doubtful that reputable law schools will seek to pack their rolls with such riskier applicants. The UGPA and 85th percentile requirements should prevent any disreputable law schools from gorging themselves on applicants who don’t have an LSAT score.

Let’s look at it from the applicants’ side now.

First, consider the undergraduate law school applicant. If you want to take advantage of the non-LSAT admissions path you cannot take the LSAT. If you do, then the law school you’re applying to will receive your LSAT score and you’ll be back in the traditional admissions process. So, without an LSAT score you can apply to only one law school — your alma mater’s law school.

This is a bad idea for more reasons than I have space to get into. Here are some highlights:

First, you might not get in, and then you’ll have to take the LSAT anyway and probably wait for the next law school application cycle.

Second, scholarships are notoriously difficult to predict, and you’ll be stuck with whatever the school offers, since you won’t have the benefit of negotiating for more given other offers from peer institutions.

Third, there is likely already a glut of applicants from your undergrad, so the admissions process will be a bit more competitive for you. Moreover, the other applicants from your undergrad can outcompete you by taking the LSAT and therefore becoming less risky for the law school.

You might think you’ll have the benefit of the law school knowing you’re dead set on attending, but so will early decision applicants who actually have LSAT scores.

What about applicants seeking joint degrees? First, these people are very rare. Usually, such joint degrees don’t make much financial sense given the additional debt. Second, they will run into all of the above issues with putting all of their eggs into a single law school basket.

An applicant will have to weigh all of the above disadvantages against saving about two months of LSAT study time. Almost everyone will end up choosing to take the LSAT. The long-term consequences just trounce the short-term benefits.

This is why it’s highly unlikely that the proposed changes, even if they do pass, will have any significant affect on law school admissions or the primacy of the LSAT.

Using a non-LSAT admissions process is a bad idea for both law schools and applicants. But I’m in favor of passing the ABA’s proposed changes. One of the best ways to expose a bad idea is to let people indulge in it.

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