ABA panel moves to make law school admission tests optional

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The American Bar Association law school accrediting arm decided on November 18 to make a major change in student admissions policies, voting to eliminate the requirement that law school applicants have an admissions test score.

A change adopted by the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar would take effect for the 2026-2027 school year.

The current Standard 503 requires a law school to have a test score for most applicants, and both the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are recognized as “valid and reliable” tests under it. The change will take effect for students entering law school in 2026-2027.  However, the change approved by the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar allows each of the 196 ABA-approved law schools to determine for themselves whether to require a test score among other factors in the admissions process.

A council committee had recommended an immediate revision, which was first proposed and withdrawn in 2018. The council, in voting 15-1 to accept the change, delayed its implementation to give law schools more time to adjust their admissions policies.

The decision followed a process that began on June 1 when the council put out for extended public comment the committee’s recommendation. About 120 comments were received, ranging from support from prospective law students to opposition from GRE and the LSAT organizations. Comments about whether an admissions test hinders or enhances the chances of law school acceptance for under-represented students differed widely.

“It’s very rare that I encounter a situation where the proponents on exact opposite sides of an issue are citing the same issue to support their arguments,” said Joseph West, chair of the council, referring to the split on the change’s potential effect on minority applicants and diversification of the legal profession.

The proposed revision now goes to the ABA House of Delegates (HOD). Under ABA rules and procedures, the HOD, as the policy-making body is known, has a maximum of two opportunities to review a proposed change; it can concur, reject or return with recommendations. But final approval to change the standards rests with the council, which serves as an independent arm of the ABA for the accreditation of the nation’s law schools.

The proposed change is tentatively scheduled to be considered at the next HOD meeting on February 6, 2023, in New Orleans.


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