Ensuring the Integrity of Law School Admission in the Wake of Recent Scandal
Falsified test results. Nonexistent athletic careers invented via Photoshop. Massive amounts of money. These were the hallmarks of the admissions scandal that’s rocking the world of higher education. Dozens of parents, including Hollywood actresses and business leaders, allegedly used fraudulent means to get their children admitted to top-tier colleges. As The New York Times reported, the alleged scheme was “stunning in its breadth and audacity.”
There are many concerning angles to this scandal, but for the Law School Admission Council, a key component is the integrity of testing procedures and the law school admission community in general. Law school admission professionals are compassionate and mission-driven, comfortable using data in their mix of art and science to craft a class. We take this moment to applaud their hard work that is often fraught with challenges, as recent events made starkly clear. While this scandal involved undergraduate admissions, not law school admissions, it’s understandable that it would put a renewed focus on all standardized testing—including our own Law School Admission Test, the industry standard for more than 70 years.
Standardized tests are intended to help even the playing field in admissions. The LSAT, in particular, was designed to create fairness for law school hopefuls at a time when many law schools were refusing to admit candidates who were women, members of minority groups, or from non-elite undergraduate programs. When used correctly, such tests can be a powerful tool that gives all test takers access to a quality education.
LSAC is committed to ensuring that integrity via tight security controls and strict policies on cheating. Our upcoming move to a digital version of the LSAT is one example of that commitment. Some people may chide us for just now “going digital,” but until we patented a new system for delivering a test digitally, the existing methods weren’t secure enough for our standards. Our vigilance is warranted, as this scandal and other incidents show.
Further, this scandal reinforces the need to remind everyone that admission should be based on potential, not privilege. I am proud of being a first-generation college and law school graduate who put myself through those state school programs. I then spent time as a lawyer, as a law school dean and professor, and now, as president of LSAC. What I’ve learned is that a few highly selective schools carry far too much weight in today’s college environment. Frank Bruni, of The New York Times, examined that topic in his 2015 book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. “Somewhere along the way, a school’s selectiveness—measured in large part by its acceptance rate—became synonymous with its worth,” he writes.
The schools themselves fuel this system, as do employers who continue to employ elitist hiring standards. In reality, there are many schools where students can get an excellent education, obtain the skills they need, and be happy. Here’s my message to prospective law students: Visit a school, get to know it, and find out what it’s about before making your decision. And trust your instincts in finding a place where you will be happy and thrive.
Finally, we must be vigilant in advocating for the rule of law. As the legal process plays out in this case, it’s important for all of us to watch and make sure that those who are facing charges do not receive special treatment. This is fundamental to the concept of a society governed by laws, not privilege.
Amid this troubling news, LSAC will continue to work to ensure the integrity of law school testing and admissions, strive for an admissions culture that values potential over privilege, and advocate for equal treatment under the law. All these elements are central to our vision of increasing diversity in the legal profession—and, in turn, building a more just and prosperous world.