Cooley President and Dean, Don LeDuc
Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s President and Dean, Don LeDuc, publishes commentaries on our website about the Law School, legal education, legal employment, and related topics. This post summarizes President LeDuc’s commentary in which he takes on those who misuse — and abuse — the LSAT.
Commentators, including academics who should know better, are improperly using the Law School Admissions Test to justify assertions regarding the quality of potential law students and the law schools they consider, contrary to published limitations on the proper use of the LSAT by the Law School Admissions Council, which creates and administers it.
Two false premises have dominated the blogs. The first is that a lower LSAT number in a school’s entering class means that the school’s graduates will be less capable of passing the bar. The second premise is even worse—that a lower LSAT number means that a school’s graduates will be less capable to practice as lawyers and that those below a certain number will be incapable of practicing law. These assertions are blatantly contrary to limitations on the use of LSAT scores issued by the LSAC. Here is the truth about the LSAT
Use of an LSAT score for any purpose other than law school admissions is improper
The LSAC says that “[t]he LSAT was designed to serve admissions functions only. It has not been validated for any other purpose.” Using the LSAT to make judgments about the capability of an individual—or a group of individuals like a law school’s entering class—to pass a bar examination is a misuse of the LSAT. The LSAC has declared that the LSAT has not been validated as a predictor of future bar results.
Bad as that claim is, the assertion that a low LSAT score foretells incapacity to practice law is even worse. Again, the LSAT has not been validated in that regard. Nor has anyone been able to define what is or is not the capacity to practice law, much less measure who is likely to practice it well. Any claim that the LSAT does so should be completely disregarded, if not derided.
The LSAT cannot be used as the sole criterion for admission to law school.
The LSAC says that “[t]he LSAT should be used as only one of several criteria for evaluation and should not be given undue weight solely because its use is convenient. . . . [because] the LSAT does not measure every discipline-related skill necessary for academic work, nor does it measure other factors important to academic success.” The LSAC further states that LSAT scores “do not measure, nor are they intended to measure, all the elements important to success at individual institutions” and that LSAT scores “must be examined in relation to the total range of information available about a prospective law student.”
The LSAT is not the best predictive measure for law school success.
The LSAC tells us that the LSAT is intended to “assist in assuring that there is a demonstrated relationship between quantitative data used in the selection process and actual performance [at a particular school].” But the LSAC’s own correlation studies invariably find that neither the LSAT score alone nor the UGPA alone are better predictors than the use of those two factors combined in the context of previous levels of academic success at that institution. Indeed, what the LSAT does is attempt to predict the likely first-year grade point average for the person being considered for admission to the particular school, based on how well those previously admitted with the same combination of the two factors did.
There is no bright line LSAT score below which a school should not offer admission.
The LSAC declares that “[c]ut-off LSAT scores (below which no applicants will be considered) are strongly discouraged. Such boundaries should be used only if the choice of a particular cut-off is based on a carefully considered and formulated rationale that is supported by empirical data . . . .” Cut-off scores may have a greater adverse impact upon applications from minority groups than upon the general applicant population.
Those who claim that the LSAT score bears any relationship to the ability to practice law are ignorant at best.
The assertion that LSAT scores predict bar results is without support. Those who create and provide the test have stated that a correlation of LSAT scores to the passage of a bar examination has never been validated, certainly not by them. One reason that a valid connection is not possible is that there is no such thing as “the bar examination.” Each state administers, scores and weighs its own examination in such a way that a person with identical LSAT scores and multi-state scores could pass in one state and fail in another.
Rankings and ratings based on LSAT scores are flawed.
Unfortunately, we are fascinated with labeling and ranking. We rank schools based on LSAT scores, we rank schools based on bar results, and we characterize law schools by tiers and students by LSAT scores. We assert that students with LSAT scores below a certain number are inferior and unworthy, but fail to take into consideration that the creators of the LSAT affirmatively declare that such a conclusion is not valid and is an improper use of the LSAT score. We assert that the LSAT test measures the ability to practice law, again contrary to the proper use of the LSAT and again despite the fact that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim. We disregard that minority groups are arguably adversely affected by multiple-choice tests.
In the land of opportunity, those who would deny anyone who has graduated from college the opportunity to fulfill a dream based on an LSAT cut-off score are elitist, paternalistic, and ignorant of the purpose of the very test they rely upon as the basis for their denial. Law school applicants and law schools deserve better treatment.
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