Law School Transparency’s recent report, the 2015 State of Legal Education, led to numerous articles in the national media about the trend of law schools admitting large numbers of poorly qualified applicants. This prompted the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) -- the organization responsible for the LSAT -- to issue a press release denouncing LST’s report and purporting to rebut certain factual assertions allegedly made by LST. The press release mischaracterizes the conclusions of the LST report.
The press release begins: “A report recently released by Law School Transparency (LST) has gained headlines by claiming that some ABA-approved law schools have been intentionally admitting “high risk” students who, based on their LSAT scores, do not have a reasonable chance of passing the bar.”
LST stands by the assertion that dozens of ABA-approved law schools know that they have admitted large numbers of students who, based on their low LSAT scores, coupled with commensurately low undergraduate GPAs, are at high risk of academic failure or failing the bar. Although LST’s risk band categories are delineated by LSAT scores, LST was very careful to explain that the risks of a low LSAT score could be offset by strong academic performance in college. LST analyzed the available data and determined that law schools were not offsetting lower LSAT scores with higher GPA requirements. Although many of these same law schools have been allocating more resources to internal and external academic success and bar prep programs, these efforts have not yet offset the overall decrease in student capability, resulting in a strong trend of decreasing bar passage rates at the high-risk category schools.
Law schools can analyze internal data about attrition and bar passage rates by LSAT score and UGPA to make reasonably accurate predictions of the likely success of applicants with similar credentials. Law School Transparency has urged (and continues to urge) law schools to make internal data publicly accessible. LST acknowledges that some law schools may be better at educating students with marginal predictors and helping to prepare them for the bar. LST stands by its assertion that law schools have a duty to the legal profession to share empirically validated findings.
LSAC specifically states that LST has made three false claims. The first alleged false claim is that “LSAT scores can be used to assign bar passage risk.” LSAC objects to LST’s labeling of students with certain LSAT scores as high risk, very high risk, and extremely high risk. Drawing from LST’s report, LSAC notes that students labeled “high risk” at one school had a first-time pass rate of 57 percent, while comparable students from another school had a pass rate of 23 percent. Based on this disparity, LSAC concludes: “Clearly, many factors significantly affect bar passage rates above and beyond LSAT scores.” LST agrees wholeheartedly with this statement and has never claimed otherwise. The LSAC statement concludes “The assertion that LSAT scores alone measure comparability is patently wrong.” Here Mr. Bernstine is arguing against an assertion that the LST report never made. Here is what the LST report actually says about assessing risk by LSAT score:
The [LSAT risk bank] framework represents only a starting point for assessing the risk of bar failure. A student with a low LSAT score but very high undergraduate GPA, for example, has less risk of failing the bar than a student with the same LSAT score and a very low UGPA. Some law schools have also been more successful than others in helping students with low LSAT scores succeed on the bar exam. Where the student takes the bar exam matters as well.
While LSAC may object to “labeling” law schools and law students, LSAC doesn’t dispute the underlying premise that there is a strong correlation between LSAT score and success in law school and on the bar exam. Mr. Bernstine does not because he cannot. LST believes that “high risk” is a fair characterization of both a 43% and 77% risk of failing the bar the first time, as reflected in the data from these two schools.