Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dumbing down some more

The LSAT may one day be a thing of the past.  Some law schools are dumping the dreaded rite of passage into law school in favor of the GRE.  The Wall Street Journal reported:

Some of the nation’s law schools—including at Harvard and Georgetown—are letting applicants take the Graduate Record Examination instead of the Law School Admission Test. The schools say they are changing in part to attract students from a wider variety of backgrounds, particularly with science, engineering and math experience.

Both tests, of course, are tough, but the LSAT holds a particular place as a grueling rite of passage. The GRE relies more on knowledge that can be memorized, as college-entrance tests do, than the skills-based LSAT that test-prep instructors say is like learning how to play a sport or instrument.

The legal industry is notoriously slow to change. Some lawyers predict the broadening acceptance of the GRE, which is used for admission to a range of programs—from masters’ in engineering and Ph.D.s in philosophy to M. B. A.s—will lead to law students who aren’t committed. Others say schools are accepting the test to game closely-followed law-school rankings that take average LSAT scores into consideration, or to keep tuition income flowing.

“I remain deeply cynical and skeptical of the whole thing,” said Sarah Zearfoss, dean of admissions at University of Michigan Law School, which requires the LSAT. “You can ruin someone’s life by admitting them if they’re not qualified.”

Yeah, no kidding. Go borrow $15,000 to $30,000 (or more) for the first year of law school and then find out you really weren't prepared for it. Very expensive lesson.

Test takers come to the LSAT with pencils sharpened to race through the exam’s five, 35-minute sections measuring analytical and logical reasoning and reading comprehension. The GRE, by contrast, can be taken by computer throughout the year and includes a large math section, in addition to reading comprehension, vocabulary and writing.

At least 14 law schools of the nation’s roughly 200 offer applicants the option of using GRE scores instead of the LSAT, or plan to do so next year. They include BYU Law School, Columbia Law School, George Washington University Law School, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Texas A&M University School of Law. A few others accept the test for limited purposes, such as for applicants to dual degrees....

The prospect of attracting more so-called STEM students is a goal cited by many of the schools accepting the GRE. Intellectual-property law and other legal specialties often require a technical background to be successful, but persuading those students to choose law school over high-paying technology companies can be a challenge.

Some say the actual act of studying for the LSAT helps prepare students for what they will find in law school, which would be lost with widespread acceptance of the GRE.

“The LSAT is meant to mimic the law-school experience,” said Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-law programs. “It tests students in a way they’re not used to on other standardized tests.”

The most vocal dissenter so far has been the Law School Admission Council, the nonprofit organization that administers the traditional law-school exam.

“The LSAT is designed for legal education,” said Kellye Testy, LSAC’s president and a former law-school dean. “It actually is marked to the kinds of skills students need to succeed.”

Ms. Testy said that she is fine with limited use of the GRE, but that substituting it completely for the LSAT would be troubling. She said that is in part because any significant drop in LSAC’s $60 million annual revenue, which comes largely from testing fees, could impact programs the organization funds to help keep a diverse student population entering the legal profession.

The American Bar Association’s accrediting arm is considering no longer requiring any admissions test at all. A final decision won’t be made until mid-next year at the earliest. Rest of article.

Kingfish note: Uh-huh. I was one of those science majors who entered law school. The LSAT was a fairly accurate predictor of the skills needed to survive in law school. Most science classes require a different kind of thinking. Learning Krebs Cycles and Oxydative Phosphorylation is different from looking at an issue in a case five different ways. I Amjured one class in law school but it took me probably three semesters to teach my brain how to think differently. Looking back now, the skills required by the LSAT were the ones needed for law school.

One angle that was totally missed by the reported was the shrinking number of applicants for law schools.  Don't think that has anything to do with this trend.  It's always about the money.  Always. 


Anonymous said...

Law school admissions are tumbling, the scores for entering classes are lower than they were a decade ago (When I went to UM Law, the average LSAT admitted was around 160. Now it's fallen to about 153), and now the bar passage rates are falling like a rock.

Unfortunately, about 20 years ago, the number of law schools exploded, and the tuition kept going up as they grew larger and larger. Now, relaxed admissions standards (and now an easier test) are the last hope to keep prop-up student numbers.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers are scum.

Anonymous said...

The schools say they are changing in part to attract students from a wider variety of backgrounds, particularly with science, engineering and math experience.

Translation: Too many so called minorities have been failing the LSAT so we came up with another test that will allow people who could not pass the LSAT to be able to go to law school.

Anonymous said...

I think both admission tests are per se discriminatory, Admission should be a right and not based on the ability to answer a few questions which are asked in a discriminatory fashion.

Same for medical schools, engineering schools, airline pilot schools and those who manufacture weapons and bombs. Anyone should have a shot at doing these things without being discriminated against on tests

Anonymous said...

You're right KF. It's all about the money. Many years ago the LSAT and the GRE were devices of exclusion. Even some applicants who could succeed were excluded from the limited number of seats available. It was easy to call them "unqualified". Now the tables have turned and those seats are going to be empty unless some of the "unqualified" can put their rumps and their money in those seats. Doesn't matter that they keep adding seats if they keep adding rumps. And it doesn't matter that there are no jobs...

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: The number of people who will have productive, rewarding careers as lawyers is declining due to automation, outsourcing, and simple correction of oversupply. This is, on balance, good for society, since lawyers are a transaction cost.

To keep the lights on, however, law schools need more students who likely won't have productive careers to fill the seats previously occupied by stronger students.

The LSAT is really hard and helps people figure out that law isn't for them early in the game, at little cost. Law schools need to delay that lesson by at least three years, until the student loan checks clear. Hence, the GRE.

Anonymous said...

When I graduated college in Dec 2006 with an Economics degree, it seemed like half of my friends that I graduated with were talking about going to law school. I'll admit, I even considered it. In college, you dream of that first job out making $60K your first year, and then hitting $100K by year 5. Yeah - that's all it was...just a dream (especially in MS). However, law school seemed like a way to make it possible. I was fortunate enough to get a great job a few months later in 2007 with a great company (still here btw). In 2008, the recession hit..and many young people lost their job and/or couldn't find one because no one was hiring. What do they do? Turn to law school. There was such a flood of law school students after 2008, that one of my friends specializing in tax law took a job making $40K a year, working 60 some odd hours a week (and graduated with $150K in debt). So it seems like now, because there was such a high supply of entry-level law graduates after that time...salaries have decreased significantly, which makes the field far less attractive to graduates. Law of supply and demand.

It's Knee Jerk Of Course.. said...

How are test questions discriminatory? They are in one sense, I guess. They discriminate among those who can answer them and those who can't.

But, in what sense are you claiming discrimination or is this just a knee-jerk reaction to an assessment and screening tool? Do they discriminate based on race? On sex or handicap? Religion? Region of residence?

I've never seen a law school entrance exam, so, can you give an example or two of questions that you think discriminate based on the possibilities I listed above?

Anonymous said...

11:07 One day people like you who obviously make statements just to start a fight get hit by a stray projectile.

Justice for Tyrion said...

15 years ago I took the LSAT and scored a 176. I strongly considered law school, but after talking with several established attorneys in the state I decided against it. Too many lawyers and not enough work. I’m so glad I pursued my true passion and earned my nuclear physics degree.

Anonymous said...

The LSAT has no bearing or indication of how you will do as an attorney. I know people who scored in the high 160s and 170s and are horrible attorneys while others scored in the low 150s and are skilled attorneys.

How you will do in practice depends on whether or not you learn to apply yourself and work in law school.

Anonymous said...

1:41- how you will do actually practicing depends on how much you can learn from watching experienced attorneys in courtrooms and depositions and not so much what is taught in school. Hell how you will actually do can depend on making the right connections in law school if you have thought it out that far

Anonymous said...

"Some lawyers talk to birds ... some lawyers talk to dogs ... WE talk to YOU!"
(Luv me them lawyer commercials!)

Anonymous said...

LSAT doesn't predict everything, but historically it has been an excellent predictor of people who just aren't smart enough to do the work, period.

Once you pass the threshold of basic competency, it's true that marketing, connections, etc. matter more than skill, especially in a fourth tier market like Mississippi, where so many of the legal jobs involve ambulance chasing and government work, and even the larger firms get adult supervision from elite AmLaw 100 firms on major cases.

But if just can't reason through the basic problems law poses, your connections won't matter. And the LSAT is excellent at weeding those people out.

Anonymous said...

My guess is they should use the test they have always used. And I would not care except that Oboma decided that massive tax dollars should go for student loans. So, get the Feds out of the loan business and use the test you have always used. If people are using their own money to pay for law school, I don't care if they are flunking out or not. And if we make them use their own money, we won't have to care. They will weed themselves out. But if they are borrowing from me, make the entrance test very hard so they don't waste my money.
There is one part of this that seems illogical - changing the test to attract more engineers, etc. because the traditional law school test is a time pressure test that requires reasoning, logical thinking and not memorizing. I'm sorry, but that is the test than an engineering grad is going to ace. I think if you look at ACT scores and IQ scores you will find that on average the engineers are more intelligent than attorneys.

Anonymous said...

Give examples of discriminatory questions or shut the hell up with that tired old claim.

Anonymous said...

As a practicing attorney I have seen what the law schools have turned out in the past 10 years. iIt wouldn’t matter if they took the lsat or the gre. What the law schools should do is take 80 percent of the graduating class size and put that number of diplomas in Cracker Jack boxes to be drawn from the bed of a large pickup truck. Those lucky enough to draw a diploma automatically are admitted to practice. Then every year thereafter they could get their license renewed in a special tent at the fair run by the Mississippi bar. The remaining 20 percent can keep on trying year after year after year

Kingfish said...

We could probably make a whole separate thread over whether law school adequately prepares one for the practice of law.

Pittpanther said...

Dumbing down? Are you kidding me?

The GRE is good enough for top engineering schools, looking for some of the brightest minds in the world. But somehow it's not good enough for law schools?

If anything, having to take the GRE will force future lawyers to understand more than just arcane legal concepts. They will need to understand math, and science, and how to apply the law in an increasingly technical world.

That's part of the problem with this world. Lawyers think they're so smart, but never learn about anything except the law. I'm looking forward to the day when lawyers have to take technical classes in college. Tthat will drive down the curve!

Anonymous said...

Affirmative Action resulted in many less than stellar 'scholars' getting into every sort of educational program and employment situation in the nation. Law school and the practice of law were not exceptions. Along with that came a downward trend in scores as well as the general conduct of the profession.

When the operator of a swimming pool is required to allow non-swimmers in the venue, he will ease up on his requirements for backstroke and butterfly. Eventually, anybody who demands a magnetic-strip entry-card will be given one. How complicated is that?

Anonymous said...

Lawyers are awesome!!

Anonymous said...

Still no examples of discrimination in testing. Where is the example of a test question on a law school entrance exam that illegally discriminates? Waiting.

(eight street sign tests followed by five 'select the cars')

Anonymous said...

The average LSAT at UM law school has never been 160. Indeed, it has been pretty close to where it is now for at least 20 years. You are mistaken anonymous at Dec. 7, 10:30 am. If you believe you are correct, please provide a citation.

Anonymous said...

The LSAT and MCAT have a purpose. As someone mentioned earlier, they are used to "week out" those who most likely will not successfully complete law school. What purpose does it serve? Perhaps it keeps some from wasting money on tuition when they are not suited for the profession? As for them being discriminatory, please provide specific examples. Or at least tell us when you took the LSAT and failed it 12/7 at 11:07

Anonymous said...

Lol, UM's class average LSAT has NEVER been 160. Probably peaked around 155-156. I had a 163, and when I entered in 2009, there was only a handful of other 1L's that were in that range. Also note that although the average has hovered around 155 for some time, 25% of classes have a 145 or lower. Who do you think comprises that group? You only get a couple guesses.

Anonymous said...

Ole miss law grad (not undergrad)here. Once the Ayers case forced ole miss to include a set number of minority’s in the law school and pay for their tuition fully, the average scores started to fall because some of the minority applicants had very low scores but were the best the school could recruit. Around this time we flunked out of being a top teir school. Diversity is great but when the only diverse peolple you can get are those with pooor academic records, it doesn’t help the school and drives down averages and employment and bar passage numbers. It’s great to learn from different types of people but if they are dumb as a brick they can’t add much to the process. And some can’t pass the bar. Then where have they gotten themselves. But the LSAT did a fine enough job for me. My friends who did well are high power lawyers or at least have the ability. Those who did poorly were less academically motivated or not as smart.

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