Question of the month: How will the ABA's new "10% Allowance" effect law school admissions?

The exact question reads:

* I was wondering if you and/or Karen could speculate how the proposed ABA rule to allow law schools to take up to 10% of their students without LSAT scores would impact admissions. Would that allow schools to inflate their medians a la the Illinois law admissions scandal thus raising standards across the board? Any insight would be very helpful*

Thanks!

Our response:

On the micro level, this should have almost a non-existent impact on an individual school’s admissions profile.   In other words, it won’t impact you, the applicant, during the application process. The wording of the new ABA policy is:

“The proposed Interpretation provides that a law school may admit no more than 10% of an entering class without requiring the LSAT from students in an undergraduate program of the same institution as the J.D. program; and/or students seeking the J.D. degree in combination with a degree in a different discipline. Applicants admitted must have scored at the 85th percentile nationally, or above, on a standardized college or graduate admissions test, specifically the ACT, SAT, GRE, or GMAT; and must have ranked in the top 10% of their undergraduate class through six semesters of academic work, or achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or above through six semesters of academic work.”

Clearly, that is a largely self eliminating pool. Of particular note is the fact that people who tend to score well on certain kinds of tests, also score well on similar tests. In other words, if your SAT is high, your LSAT should be too. (Of course, the reliability of these tests may go down if the LSAT were to add this section troublesome section of playing with toys http://spiveyconsulting.com/blog/breaking-news-lsac-to-add-new-section-to-lsat-starting-sept-2014/).

Additionally, schools have been doing this already –they just had to get a variance from the ABA to do so.  So basically the ABA is now saying “it makes sense”, “our experiment worked”, “we are sick of granting variances”, or something along those lines. Actually, knowing organizations, if I had to guess it may just be that they never denied a variance and thus decided to blanket this policy.  Regardless, the big point here is that for an applicant, this is nothing new.

But what are the macro level possible considerations? This now, becomes more speculative but also more interesting. For starters, once something is granted it is difficult to take away. So this policy should be here to stay. So what?

Well, now all schools have the ability to try to keep their own by making an application easier on a student of their undergraduate institution. It seems odd that the ABA would be so open to this, particularly given the scandal referenced in the question and the underlying sentiment from the administration (that was discovered from during that scandal) to restrict the options of those students. Limiting even the parameters of choice is an odd move by the ABA, a move that seems to favor only law schools. And personally (Mike’s view), creating incentives for individuals to have an undergraduate degree and JD from the same school potentially limits their network and employability in the future. So perhaps the larger macro level question should be “during this era of law school struggle, is the ABA more willing to say “yes” to law school policy requests, even if those requests may not favor the individual student? That may be a bit of a stretch from this rule change, only time will tell.

To summarize, there won’t be much of an impact on the pool in general, and an individual school will not become more selective for LSAT scores because they are filling 10% of their class with high gpa students. The math won’t add up that quickly.

For a few more individuals they will be able to stay at their alma mater without having to take the LSAT, which as an aside is a pretty nice thing because playing with TOYS can be challenging.