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What Does the ABA Proposal for an LSAT Waiver Mean? Dual Degrees

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Hate the LSAT? If this American Bar Association proposal goes through, you maybe able to sneak into law school without taking the ubiquitous exam.

But don't get too excited: the waiver only applies to a very narrow group of students -- those with high scores on other standardized entrance exams, who are at the top of their class, and/or those who are aiming to go to their undergraduate institution's law school -- in other words, a tiny sliver of prospective students.

Somewhere in New Jersey, Rutgers-Camden officials are shaking their heads in frustration, however. One wonders how much their six-year pilot program and censure have to do with the current proposal.

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The LSAT is Currently (Pretty Much) Mandatory

Standard 503 requires accredited schools to use the LSAT [PDF] in their admissions process, unless, per Interpretation 503-1, a school obtains a variance after proving the veracity of an alternative exam. As we noted when Rutgers-Camden was censured for letting in as much as 6.7 percent of their class without an LSAT score (often, but not exclusively, as part of their joint JD/MBA program), this is a chicken and egg issue -- you can't prove the veracity of an alternate exam as a predictor of law school success without first allowing students in who have taken that exam.

In short, the LSAT is still mandatory.

Proposed Waiver

Here is the description of the wavier [PDF] from the ABA:

The proposed Interpretation provides that a law school may admit no more than 10% of an entering class without requiring the LSAT from students in an undergraduate program of the same institution as the J.D. program; and/or students seeking the J.D. degree in combination with a degree in a different discipline. Applicants admitted must have scored at the 85th percentile nationally, or above, on a standardized college or graduate admissions test, specifically the ACT, SAT, GRE, or GMAT; and must have ranked in the top 10% of their undergraduate class through six semesters of academic work, or achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or above through six semesters of academic work.

According to the ABA Journal, the waiver proposal was approved last month by the governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and will be reviewed by the ABA's House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in Boston next month.

Effect? Perhaps More Dual-Degree Programs

What effect will this have on law school admissions? Obviously, with all of the restrictions on the waiver, we're not going to see prospective law students flocking to the GRE or GMAT in lieu of the LSAT. But, it could shake things up a bit for two types of non-traditional students:

One could easily see this leading to more joint undergraduate-law degree programs -- since the ACT or SAT are sufficient, schools could have a joint degree program that guarantees law school admission to top students with high undergraduate grades and admissions scores after six semesters of undergraduate courses, perhaps with classes in that third year that count for both degrees.

As for dual graduate degree programs, this eliminates the headache of taking both the GMAT and LSAT, if, again, your undergraduate and standardized test credentials are impeccable.

For law schools, this is one less obstacle to admitting students, which may make it easier to fill seats that are increasingly vacant.

One of the concerns about Rutgers-Camden's pilot program, which likely played into the censure order, was that by admitting students who hadn't taken the LSAT, the school may have artificially inflated its LSAT numbers. These concerns seem a bit overblown here -- if the student is intelligent enough to score qualify on an alternate test, and to finish at the top of her undergraduate class, a decent LSAT score likely would've been a foregone conclusion anyway.

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