Harvard’s decision to eliminate LSAT scores in determining qualified candidates for law school has been a bold move—but is this for the better or worse?
Harvard’s decision to waive applicants’ LSAT scores for the admissions will officially be taking place this fall for a number of reasons. For one, many students who will be applying will also be applying to graduate school in other fields of study. This means that they would have to study for and write the exam in a cumbersome manner since they would spend a large proportion of their time and money writing an exam for one field of study.
A substitute for the LSAT exam will be the GRE, which is used for a variety of graduate programs and is acceptable in the sense that it measures a candidate’s ability in analytical writing and vocabulary, which are extremely important skills in law school.
It is interesting to note that Harvard is not the first school to omit the LSAT; three other American schools also did, just last year. One of them is the University of Arizona College of Law, and they now accept either GRE scores or LSAT scores.
According to the Dean Marc Miller, “By using the GRE test, which is accepted by thousands of graduate and professional degree programs, from biochemistry to public policy to philosophy, we are able to consider qualified applicants from more diverse backgrounds.”
Considering the fact that the opportunity cost of going to law school is quite high with a diminishing job market and rising tuition costs, it is no surprise that individuals are less likely to want to go to law school now than say, 20 years ago.
Average tuition per year at Harvard Law is an astonishing $90,000, and a combination of other external factors such taking the daunting LSAT exam decreases the incentive for people to become lawyers. Removing the LSAT from the admissions process will provide a boost in applicants for law schools, and will attract new talent from a variety of diverse backgrounds.
“Law needs students with science, technology, engineering, and math backgrounds.” – Martha Minow (Dean of Harvard Law)
Do the advantages of the LSAT outweigh the disadvantages?
Despite all of the hassle of preparing and taking the LSAT, there is evidence that shows a positive correlation between LSAT performance and law school performance. There is also evidence that shows how students who have high LSAT scores tend to be more likely to pass the bar exam. In the case of Harvard, for example, the median LSAT score in 2014 was 173, with 94.3% of first-time test takers passing the bar exam. From the 11 schools with the highest LSAT scores, on average, grads beat their state in passing the bar by 29%!
It is important to note that while these studies may show a positive correlation between these two variables, we need to keep in mind that there could be other factors at play that could also affect bar passage rates. For example, top schools tend to prepare their students for the bar better than lower-tier schools.
It may be the case that the high pressure of the LSAT exam, as well as the other exams in law school, are effective predictors of a candidate’s ability to be a successful lawyer. If we consider a prospective law student who does not do well on law exams, it is reasonable to assume that he or she is less likely to succeed in court, which is also a high-pressure situation, except, in that case, a person’s life could be on the line.
However, this is definitely not the case for some practicing lawyers. According to practicing attorney Taji Kommineni, “I remember when I took the LSAT, I thought it was the most convoluted ridiculous exam. As a practicing attorney, I still feel the same way. As someone who is now applying to medical school, I still believe the LSAT has no bearing on whether you’ll be a good lawyer at all.”
So, are LSAT scores accurate in determining an individual’s success in law school and outside of it? Perhaps in some ways. However, I also believe that the test is not the only predictor of success as a lawyer; it is entirely possible for an individual who did not do so well on the LSAT to become an excellent lawyer. In that case, qualitative characteristics that cannot be measured outshine the proficiency in skills that would otherwise be measured in an exam.
Harvard’s decision to omit the LSAT exam for prospective law students is an ironic one indeed, as they are one of the first schools to use it in practice. I imagine that it would be unlikely for other schools not to follow suit, and who knows, maybe in a decade or so, the LSAT will be completely eradicated in law schools everywhere.