August 03, 2018

ABA legal education accreditor prepares for change in admissions standards

In anticipation of a major change in the standard for testing of prospective law students, the governing body of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar wrestled on Friday with how to collect and report some of the data required of the nation’s 204 ABA-approved law schools.

Early next week at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, the ABA House of Delegates is expected to consider proposed revisions to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The Council, the ABA’s independent arm for law school accreditation, discussed Friday a “guidance memo” to be sent to schools if the House concurs with the changes but reached no decisions on some of its details.

Altogether, there are five legal education resolutions before the House. For law schools, the most significant proposed change affects the standard requiring a “valid and reliable test” for prospective law students.

Under the change, law schools would no longer be required to collect scores for a test, such as the LSAT, although they would have to report scores for those students who take tests. Language in support of the new standard would establish that a school whose admissions policy and practices are called into question is presumptively out of compliance with the standards if it does not require a valid and reliable admissions test as part of its admission policy.

The change comes in the wake of around two dozen schools since 2016 announcing they will accept the GRE test in addition to the LSAT. Under ABA rules, the House can either concur with the recommended changes or send them back to the Council with or without a recommendation. The Council must then resend any changes back to the House for re-consideration, but the final decision rests with the Council.

At its Friday public session, Andrea Sinner, director of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education, said that the presidential initiative of outgoing ABA President Hilarie Bass would be continued by her successor Bob Carlson. Sinner reported the commission has received funding from AccessLex, a nonprofit that supports legal education, to empirically study the impact of the bar exam for a multi-year period.

In other reports discussed Friday:

  • Representatives from the Association of American Law Schools said a September release was planned for the study, “Before the JD.” More than 22,000 undergraduate and first-year law students participated in the survey, which focused on the decision to go to law schools, among other areas.

  • Representatives from the National Association of Law Placement outlined new information released this week that showed median salaries for law school graduates in the class of 2017 was $70,000, up $5,000 from the previous class. Also, average salaries, jumped from $90,305 for the class of 2016, to $95,320 for the class of 2017, and large law firms with more than 500 lawyers boosted hiring, with starting salaries of $180,000 becoming more prevalent. Still the news was not all good. Jim Leipold, NALP executive director, said there remains a challenge of recruiting lawyers for practices in small and rural areas.

  • Kellye Testy, chief executive of the Law School Admissions Council, said that summer test takers of the LSAT were up 25 percent from a year ago, and that the quality of the applicant pool for law schools was improving “both in diversity and quality.”

  • Representatives of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, a coalition of groups inside and outside the ABA, discussed their report of a year ago of 44 recommendations to improve lawyer and law student mental health and well-being. They urged the Council to make this a priority among law schools.