The American Bar Association is considering dropping the requirement that applicants take a standardized admissions test to gain entry into law school.
The proposal follows years of plummeting enrollment in law schools and an evolving job market for graduates.
In February 2016, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law became the first law school in the country to accept the Graduate Record Examination, a test typically used for graduate school admissions, rather than the Law School Admission Test, known as the LSAT, as part of the application process.
Harvard Law School became the second to do so in the fall 2017. Since then, more than a dozen schools have followed suit.
“We were recognizing more and more that great lawyers can come from different backgrounds,” said Christopher Robertson, associate dean of the James E. Rogers College of Law. For those who already have an advanced degree in another field and want to come back and get a juris doctor degree, “the LSAT was a barrier.”
Additionally, for students deciding between a law degree and another professional degree, or students interested in dual degrees, taking one standardized test streamlines the application process.
The LSAT is also less accessible. It costs $180 to take and requires months of study. The GRE costs $160 and is offered more frequently and in more locations.
But the Bar’s consideration takes this one step further by possibly dropping the mandate requiring any standardized test to get into a law school.
If the mandate is abolished, it is likely that schools will still require a test, said Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education for the Bar Association, in a statement.
But such a move would give schools like the UA more flexibility in the admission process, Robertson said.
UA research has shown the GRE is just as good of a predictor of student performance as the LSAT, but “both standardized tests are not perfect predictors,” Robertson said. “We’re confident that for some students, we don’t need either test.”
This push comes after years of falling enrollment in law schools nationally. Enrollment peaked in 2010 at 147,525. By 2014, that number fell by nearly 28,000 to 119,775. Total enrollment in the fall 2017 dropped again by nearly 10,000 to 110,156.
The number of UA juris doctor students has shrunk from 440 in 2011 to 361 in 2015, according to available data, but overall enrollment in the college has increased since the UA started offering an undergraduate degree in law.
“We went through these huge economic changes, just like other industries because of the internet (providing legal research and do-it-yourself legal services) and the financial crash,” Robertson said. “When you see changes, it welcomes the opportunity for innovation. We innovated across the board to make sure our students are well prepared for the changing market.”
Besides moving to not require the LSAT, the UA was also the first law school in the United States to offer a bachelor’s degree in law in the fall of 2014.
There are now more than 700 undergraduate law students, Robertson said, and a couple hundred more attending “micro-campuses” in Asia.
This undergraduate program is aimed at students who might enter careers where a law degree is not required but a deep understanding of the law is.
This trend is echoed across the country. There’s been a 21 percent jump in enrollment for nonlaw degree programs from 13,677 enrolled in 2016 to 16,482 enrolled in 2017.
The school also chose to drastically reduce the cost of attendance for non-resident JD students by more than 30 percent from over $42,000 in tuition a year to $29,000.
These changes were enacted to “throw open the doors of legal education,” Robertson said, to those interested in entering public interest law, which pays lower salaries and can benefit from lower tuition, for example.
The proposal to drop standardized test requirements was advanced on April 13.
The proposal will go before the Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on May 11 in Washington, D.C. The earliest the change could be approved by the Bar’s House of Delegates is August.