Critical Questions for Law School Admissions Officers

by | Feb 21, 2023

By now you’ve probably heard about two of the biggest changes roiling law school admissions in the past half decade: 1) the decision by Harvard, Yale, and other T14 universities to opt out of submitting data to US News & World Reports’ rankings, the only such list to quantify law schools, and 2) the vote by the American Bar Association (ABA) to no longer require the use of Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or other standardized test scores when admitting students, starting in 2025.

Amid a flurry of discussions about the implications these decisions will have on equity, transparency, and – ultimately – the composition of the next generation of law school cohorts emerges a number of critical questions for admissions officers who will have to innovate in their recruitment efforts.  In terms of top schools opting out of rankings, the impact may be minimal: USN says that it will use publicly available data to assess those schools who say they will no longer self report.

Significantly, lower-ranked schools may now feel they, too, can opt out, freeing up resources that were previously spent focused on their rankings and which categories that USN measures.  This may have a similar effect as the recent elimination of some rankings of MBA schools: as we discussed in a previous blog post, “As rankings become less important, there’s also an opportunity to think carefully about how faculty and administrators can measure the impact of their program, shifting resources to focus on making the most of existing students’ experiences.”

What’s Ahead

The bigger challenge for admissions offices may be the elimination of standardized testing as an assessment tool. As has been noted elsewhere, LSAT scores are the best predictor of a student’s first year grades and ability to pass the bar examination.  Programs that seek to measure the quality of their program based in part on student outcomes (e.g. passing the bar) will have difficulty assessing applicants’ potential based on, say, undergraduate GPAs alone.

While a key argument in both changes is to admit more diverse pools of students who can go on to have varied legal careers, how will programs compare a first-generation state university graduate to an Ivy league legacy student?  Under the current system, a stellar LSAT store might be the best (or even only) way that the former could distinguish themselves from the latter.  Elimination of these quantitative assessments could, therefore, have the opposite effect of leveling the playing field.

From the applicant perspective, aspiring law students are, likewise, going to be left with a decreased ability to assess potential schools, as well as a potentially muddled picture of their ability to succeed in them if the USN rankings disappear after top schools opt out. While a program’s “fit” is crucial for determining where a student might succeed, such qualitative information – gleaned from site visits, conversations with faculty and alumni, etc. – provide only a partial picture in the absence of consistent quantitative data on a given program.

Key Takeaways

This is why it’s important for law school admissions officers to start planning now for the changes ahead, beginning with an assessment of their degree offerings. For example, eliminating the LSAT requirement may widen the applicant pipeline, with pre-admissions programs and/or one-year Master’s programs serving as an entry ramp to a JD. Schools could also consider (re)building robust night programs, which have historically served those who couldn’t get into the day program owing to lower LSAT scores.

Further, law schools can take some cues from business schools, despite MBA degree holders not being required to pass an exam such as the LSAT to practice their “trade.” Business schools have for years been marketing to candidates from many backgrounds using a multitude of assessment methods.

Crucially, MF Digital has deep experience working with both business schools and law schools, taking best practices from each to apply to the other. Upwardly mobile, working professionals who believe a graduate degree from a law school or business school share similar values: they want to gain actionable skills that they can use immediately to accelerate their career.

In light of this recent upheaval in the sector, there are three things every admissions team needs to be ready to address: How much do my program’s rankings really matter?  How much do students’ scores really matter? And how to I find the right students for my institution and provide those students with the best outcomes? Let’s work together to answer these tough questions.

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