North Carolina Central University recently announced that, as part of its response to the ABA's notice that it was out of compliance with ABA Standard 501 on Admissions, the school was establishing an LSAT cutoff of 142. That is, no student with an LSAT below 142 would be admitted. Although I am sure that many law schools use either formal or informal LSAT cutoffs in their admissions process (and I have encouraged law schools to do so, with some flexibility for extraordinary cases), this is the first time that I have heard of a law school publicly announcing an LSAT score cutoff. This may be because the ABA Standards, Appendix 2, LSAC Cautionary Policies Concerning LSAT Scores, specifically cautions against improper use of cut-off scores. Indeed, this policy states:
Cut-off LSAT scores (those below which no applicants will be considered) are strongly discouraged. Such boundaries should be used only if the choice of a particular cut-off is based on a carefully considered and formulated rationale that is supported by empirical data, for example, one based on clear evidence that those scoring below the cut-off have substantial difficulty doing satisfactory law school work. . .
As the ABA notes: "Significantly, cut-off scores may have a greater adverse impact upon applicants from minority groups than upon the general applicant population." Indeed, the cutoff score of 142 at NCCU, an HBCU with a mission to expand access to underrepresented minority groups, will exclude roughly half of African-American LSAT takers, as the median score for African-Americans is 142, according to statistics released by the LSAC.
NCCU's decision appears well-grounded in empirical data. In announcing the decision, NCCU's Chancellor noted a significant disparity in first year grades in the cohort of students with LSATs of 136-142 (NCCU's bottom quartile), leading to high rates of academic attrition, as compared to students in top quartile (150+) all of whom were in good academic standing at the end of their first semester.
The ABA Standards recommend that law schools regularly evaluate the predictive utility of the LSAT, stating:
In order to assist in assuring that there is a demonstrated relationship between quantitative data used in the selection process and actual performance in your law school, such data should be evaluated regularly so
that your school can use LSAT scores and other information more effectively. For this purpose, the Law
School Admission Council annually offers to conduct correlation studies for member schools at no charge. Only by checking the relationship between LSAT scores, undergraduate grade-point average, and law school grades will schools be fully informed about how admission data, including test scores, can be used most effectively by that school.
While it would certainly be useful for law schools to evaluate the relationship between LSAT scores and law school grades, it would also be extremely useful for law schools to evaluate the relationship between LSAT scores and bar exam results, something that the current Appendix 1 does not even mention, much less encourage. After all, Standard 501 on Admissions requires that law schools "shall only admit applicants who appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar." With a few exceptions (such as diploma privilege in Wisconsin), one can only be admitted to the bar by passing a bar examination. So, if there is a strong correlation between LSAT scores and bar exam results (or a combination of LSAT scores and UGPA and bar results), it would be perfectly appropriate for a law school to consider that in the admissions process. Indeed, it could be argued that it would be negligent for a law school, particularly one with a low bar pass rate, to fail to consider the correlation between LSAT scores and bar exam results.
Not only should such studies inform the admissions process, but law schools should be encouraged by the ABA to publicly release this information. This would be extremely useful consumer information for prospective law students in a couple of ways. First, such data would allow prospective students to make meaningful comparisons of law schools. If there were particular law schools that did a more effective job of preparing students with certain LSAT scores to pass the bar, it would be very helpful for students with those LSAT scores to know that. And if it became apparent that students with certain LSAT and GPA profiles were very rarely able to pass the bar, it might help students to make an informed choice about whether to go to law school at all. It would also be helpful to know if graduates with weak entrance credentials had a significantly better chance of gaining entry into the bar in some jurisdictions as compared to others, as students with strong desires to become lawyers who had some geographic flexibility might choose to go to school (or take the bar) in a jurisdiction with more favorable odds.