ABA panel votes in favor of fairness for ‘optional test’ law school admissions

An American Bar Association panel has voted to make standardized tests optional for law school admissions, paving the way for racial bias that favors low-scoring applicants.

The ABA’s Legal Education and Bar Admissions Section Council voted on Friday to abolish mandatory testing beginning in the fall of 2025. The ABA currently allows accredited law schools to use either the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Officials from companies that produce the LSAT and GRE opposed the proposed change, which awaits approval from the ABA’s governing body in February. The proposal also drew criticism from law school professors and deans.

“The decision to make the LSAT optional is made in the shadow of the affirmative action case pending before the Supreme Court,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas School of Law. “Law schools claim that the LSAT is not an objective measure of merit but is structurally racist. Now, law schools can admit students without having to report their LSAT scores.

According to the ABA’s advice, whites and Asians consistently score the highest LSAT scores, while blacks and Puerto Ricans score the lowest.

On Friday, the board cited a report from its Strategic Review Committee (SRE), which dismissed concerns that optional test admissions would create an unequal playing field for applicants.

“Because law schools vary in how they use the LSAT, there are currently no ‘level playing fields’ as these comments suggest,” the report states.

The report also downplayed concerns that scrapping standardized tests would create a “race to the bottom” by admitting poorly prepared students. Schools with low attrition levels, law school exam scores and bar pass rates may continue to give the LSAT or GRE, he noted.

“The SRE does not believe such a ‘race to the bottom’ is likely,” the report said.

In a letter to the board, 60 law school deans argued that removing mandatory testing “would decrease the diversity of incoming classes in law schools, increasing reliance on grade point average and other criteria that are potentially more steeped in prejudice”.

“At the very least, we believe that more data and studies on the effects of this precipitous change are needed,” the Deans wrote.

Law schools remain divided on what they will do if the change is approved.

In a survey of admissions officers at the ABA’s 82 accredited law schools, the education company Kaplan found that 30 of them would be “very likely” to continue requiring application tests if they became optional.

Another 11 schools said they were ‘fairly likely’ to continue testing, two were ‘fairly unlikely’, two were ‘very unlikely’ and the remaining 37 were unsure what they would do.

Theodore H. Frank, director of the free market Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, said abolishing admissions tests would create problems for current grading systems.

“The LSAT is the best predictor of law school grades. The ABA’s decision is intended to reduce the role of merit in law school admissions,” Frank said.

Some top law schools have already downplayed the LSAT and GRE, saying they exclude socioeconomic diversity by favoring students who pay for test courses.

On Thursday, the Yale and Harvard law schools announced they would drop from the US News and World Report university rankings over a focus on admissions scores.

Yale has ranked first in the annual law school rankings each year, with Harvard a few places behind. Neither school responded to a request for comment on Monday.

“This is yet another decision to prioritize fairness over excellence amid the continued illiberal takeover of legal academia,” said Faculty of Law graduate Ilya Shapiro. Law from the University of Chicago and Director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute.

Nancy I. Romero