LSAC strikes back with bizarre charge in latest war over LSAT

The Law School Admission Council ("LSAC") administers the Law School Admission Test ("LSAT"). It also administers the admissions service that all law schools use to admit applicants. Recently, it was not very happy that Arizona Law planned on admitting some students using the Graduate Record Examination ("GRE") in lieu of the LSAT. It threatened to expel Arizona from LSAC. A number of law school deans pushed back. And LSAC backed down. But it chose another way of threatening law schools--one with a bizarre line of attack.

A few preliminary matters. It's not obvious to me that the GRE is comparable to the LSAT in predicting law school performance. But as LSAT is an imperfect tool at best, and the GRE may be slightly more imperfect, it may well be better at some schools for a handful of applicants. Indeed, I imagine the correlation between SAT and LSAT is quite high. And there are obvious advantages to using the GRE--it expands the pool of prospective law students to a more generalized pool of students interested in a degree after the bachelor's degree. And, perhaps more cynically, incoming students with a GRE score do not have an LSAT score, which is a significant category used in U.S. News & World Report ("USNWR") rankings. All this aside, I think there's no question schools should be permitted--and should--innovate with admissions criteria.

Further, LSAC has been diluting the value of the LSAT for some time. It reports the highest LSAT score of an applicant rather than the mean of all scores, which is the more accurate measure of success. It has agreed to stop "flagging" accommodated test-takers, whose scores are not as reliable a measure of law school success.

Additionally, schools have already been looking toward other measures beside the LSAT as a basis for admitting students. A few schools offer select programs admit students from their own undergraduate schools with no need of an LSAT score if they've achieved a high enough GPA.

Given all these changes, the LSAT is not a great measure for the quality of an incoming class right now. The median LSAT score is not a great measure of the quality of the class, even though USNWR uses it anyway.

But LSAC has decided otherwise. It used to provide reports about each school's 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile LSAT scores to the ABA. It will no longer do so. It explains, "Given the current uncertainty about the Section's position on the use of admission tests other than the LSAT, and the current or potential use by some law schools of admission tests other than the LSAT, we no longer believe that this goal can be met."

Pause and reflect on these remarks. Recall that, so far, only Arizona Law has overtly expressed a desire to use an alternative test (although others are considering it). Recall, too, the many, many present weaknesses in the LSAT scores, some of which have literally been caused by LSAC itself.

It's something of an absurd statement from LSAC. It reflects not a genuine concern about its data but a preemptive strike against the ABA or any law schools that intend to use any other admissions tests. It also reflects a rather unsophisticated cry against law schools--particularly in the event antitrust claims arose against such an organization that held such a powerful grip on law school admissions.

This is hardly the first bizarre letter from LSAC this cycle, as my colleague Rob Anderson has explained over a 2015 letter concerning the usefulness of LSAT scores.

But I thought I would highlight the disingenuous attack on the use of the GRE. While I'm inclined to agree that the GRE has not been demonstrated to be as predictive, the non-sequitur claiming that this is the one thing that renders LSAT scores at law schools essentially meaningless is, I think, not accurate.

(UPDATE Sept. 25, 2016: LSAC has decided to withdraw its threat for one year.)