April 2022 / Episode 6 / Under 20 minutes
LSAC’s New Legal Education Program
Welcome to the Keeping Up to DataSM podcast, a new space in which we discuss, analyze, and contextualize trends and perspectives in the current law school admission cycle by taking a deeper dive into the most up-to-date data and making sense of the complicated world of legal education.
SUSAN KRINSKY: Welcome back to Keeping Up to DataSM. I’m Susan Krinsky, LSAC’s executive vice president for operations and chief of staff. This month in addition to a review of the volume data, I’m delighted to bring you a conversation with two people who are deeply involved with LSAC’s new initiative: what we are calling, for now, the Legal Education Program.
But first, some data. As of the second half of April, and based on last year’s final applicant and application numbers, we are over 90% of the way through this application cycle. Compared to a year ago, admittedly a very unusual year, applicants are down 11% and applications are down 9.6%.
However, looking back two years ago, applicants are up 6% and applications are up 19%, leading to a possible conclusion that last year was the outlier. And if we eliminate last year from the picture, we are seeing a steady increase over the past several years. You can see this even more clearly by looking at the five-year trend page within the current volume summaries on our website.
Looking now at LSAT volumes, as of today, we’ve completed six LSAT administrations, with one more at the end of April and an eighth test administration in the middle of June. So far during the current testing cycle, we’ve delivered very close to 105,000 tests. As of this recording date, over 12,000 individuals are registered for the April test, almost twice as many as for the March test. And with some time before the registration deadline for the June administration, we have almost 17,000 individuals registered for that test.
The dates for the 2022-2023 test cycle are posted on our website. We will open registration for the August through June test administrations in just under a month, by the middle of May.
And now, as promised, I’ll shift gears to talk about an exciting development at LSAC. Last month, LSAC announced a bold initiative that will offer undergraduate students a new pathway to law school. Currently known as the Legal Education Program, this initiative is being designed to equip more students with the skills and support necessary to successfully pursue legal education. In the future, successful completion of the program could provide a second valid and reliable basis for law school admission that will complement the proven Law School Admission Test.
While studies consistently show that the LSAT is the single best predictor of law school success, and that the LSAT’s predictive validity is consistent across all demographic groups, LSAC is innovating to create an additional pathway to law school that meets potential students earlier, through a holistic approach to building the skills and support needed to help students define, pursue, and succeed in their educational goals.
LSAC is developing its Legal Education Program in partnership with students, law schools, undergraduate institutions, DEI professionals, and members of the legal profession. The program is being developed using LSAC’s deep expertise in assessment science and research to build an additional tool that will reliably predict law school success.
To help guide this development, some of the nation’s leading academics from colleges, universities, and law schools have joined LSAC’s Legal Education Program advisory committee. Joining me today to talk about the Legal Education Program is my colleague Kaitlynn Griffith, who is LSAC’s vice president for product development and business intelligence, and who has been at the forefront of the development of the program.
Also joining us is Jonathan Brand, the president of Cornell College, and a member of the Legal Education Program’s advisory committee. Kaitlynn, let me start by asking you, what is LSAC’s Legal Education Program?
KAITLYNN GRIFFITH: Susan, I’m so glad you’re asking about this program. We’re so excited to be developing this and to tell you more about it today.
As you mentioned, the program is designed for undergraduate students. It will happen at undergraduate institutions, and ultimately, it is a holistic program and a new pathway to law school. So ultimately, we are hoping that it will provide a second valid and reliable alternative for law school admission that could complement the proven LSAT test.
There are a few ways that the program will work at our institutions. We think of this holistic approach in terms of helping them develop and master skills that will be necessary for law school success. It will also provide students with a better understanding of the legal profession and the law school experience, and actually give them tools for navigating this journey all the way from admissions to a career in law and understanding what that looks like.
Ultimately, we also want to equip our students with strong support networks that will help them throughout their legal education journeys, wherever that starts for them.
Finally, I want to say that an important component of this program is that we’re going to be working with students earlier. We understand that students are exploring their careers very early on, and we want to meet them where they’re at. We want to meet them early, and frankly, we want to meet them often. We want to be there for them as they go through this journey.
SUSAN: Kaitlynn, how is LSAC going about developing the Legal Education Program?
KAITLYNN: We’re actually doing quite a bit of activities right now to develop the program. There’s a couple different ways, all focused around working with experts in legal education, undergraduate institutions, and a variety of stakeholders. Of course, we are conducting research. We’re doing that through market research and studies, and that will ultimate give us evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness and validity of the program.
But earlier, you mentioned our advisory committee, so I want to say a little bit more about them. That’s a really important part of the program. We believe that to develop this product so that it works, and it does what we say it’s going to do, we need to talk to the institutions that are going to be part of that.
So that includes our undergraduate institutions, and it includes law schools. We also have engaged legal professionals in our advisory committee, so we’re really excited to work with them and to have them give us input and feedback as we develop the program.
Another way that we’re building this is working with design partner schools. These are three undergraduate institutions that have agreed to be our built-in focus group. And that includes having us talk to students, having us talk to faculty, having us talk to administrators, DEI experts, career experts, all the people who are stakeholders in building this product. And so we are literally sitting down, talking with them, giving them information and having them give us feedback about how this would work on their campuses.
And finally, the last thing I want to talk about in development is, of course, a pilot. So we will be kicking off a pilot this fall. We are in the process of recruiting schools and students for the pilot. So there’ll be a lot more to come on that.
SUSAN: And speaking of the program’s advisory committee, we’re very pleased to be joined by one of its members. I’m happy to welcome the president of Cornell College, Jonathan Brand. President Brand is not only a member of the program’s advisory committee, but his school will be one of the program’s initial design partner schools.
Welcome, President Brand. Tell me why you felt it was important for Cornell College to work with LSAC to design and develop this Legal Education Program.
JONATHAN BRAND: Well, I’m thrilled. I think we’re really fortunate to play a role here. This is something that I would say is critical. The ultimate goal of the Legal Education Program is to increase access to law school, and through that, to ultimately really encourage a more diverse population of individuals entering into legal professions. I mean, there’s a social mission there to accomplishing that, and I and we at Cornell College felt very strongly about trying to play a role in achieving that outcome.
I’ll also say, as I think about some of the goals within that comment, it can only be beneficial to students for us to be able to demystify the path through a legal education and legal careers. I love the fact that this program is rooted in even greater support for students, which is something that Cornell College, as a national liberal arts college, support is what we do. And so building off of that support that we provide,] all of our students felt just absolutely right.
Another comment that I’ll make, which is we’re on the block system. We have a “one course at a time” methodology, which is unlike the semester system. Our students take one course and only one course for three and a half weeks at a time. And then, after four and a half days, they repeat, and they do this eight times in the course of the year.
And we thought that by participating, it would allow LSAC to see how the Legal Education Program might work with schools that have more creative academic models than the semester system. So in that respect, we were hoping that we might be a good model for LSAC.
SUSAN: That is really interesting. Could you talk a bit more about how you envision the Legal Education Program fitting into the undergraduate coursework at Cornell?
JONATHAN: Well, sure. So probably it comes as no surprise that at a school like Cornell College, we already value critical thinking skills and writing skills. Among those learning outcomes, those are two that are right at the top. So in some ways, this program is a terrific supplement to what we already want our students to accomplish and to have mastered when they graduate.
What I love about this pilot program is that, one, because we are focused so much through the Legal Education Program on critical thinking and on writing, I think it’s going to implicitly allow our students, also right at the very beginning, to focus on those skills as well. Which sometimes it happens, but here we really will talk about it much more explicitly at the beginning. And allowing them to focus more explicitly on those skills up front, I think it’ll also allow us to ensure their proficiency in them more rapidly and more quickly. And that’s also a benefit.
I’ll also say the Legal Education Program already really matches up beautifully with our prelaw program, but it enhances it by adding more structure, by providing a greater professional context for our students, and also, of course, it will come with an official endorsement. Those three benefits on top of our prelaw program, it’s a natural fit. It will just extend what we can offer and help our prelaw students accomplish.
The last thing I’ll just say that we think about, I’d mentioned the “one course at a time” methodology. And as you know from Kaitlynn, this is a pilot program. Right now, we’re focused on two courses that we’re offering. It might be that as this develops, that there might be other academic journeys for students to accomplish attainment of the goals of the Legal Education Program.
So right now, for example, we’re focused on philosophy. In the future, it might be that a student could take a political science course and an environmental studies course. It might be in the future that they can take a philosophy course and an English course to achieve the goals of this program. And I love the possibility that it might ultimately broaden the various academic journeys that our students can take.
SUSAN: That is very exciting. What do you think the reaction will be from your students when they learn about these possibilities?
JONATHAN: Well, if they can match my enthusiasm, I think we’ll have great excitement from among our students. I’m deeply enthusiastic about it. So we already have a number of students who have signed up, and we’ve had a lot of conversations with students on campus throughout this process. They’re very interested in the courses, and it’s probably no surprise, they’re also extremely interested in the non-academic components of the Legal Education Program.
And frankly, I think that conjoining the academic and the non-academic components is part of why I’m so enthused, why I think the Legal Education Program is so compelling as a program.
We also know from our students, not just who are in prelaw, but those who are in prelaw, again, part of demystifying the process, they really want to know what it means to be a lawyer. So for example, you might have some students who are curious: What’s the difference between, for example, being an intellectual property lawyer in Texas versus being a public defender in Montana?
And another comment I would make is, the students who are coming to colleges today, they’re very connected with each other. They’re very focused on community. And so the sense of building a prelaw community that could even extend into law school, to be able to connect with others who are having the same experiences that they’re having, is hugely beneficial.
And then I guess the final comment I would make is, through the Legal Education Program, our students in this program will have a chance to avail themselves, to connect with a range of national resources that, frankly, before this program really weren’t available at the level that they’re at now.
I myself, I went through law school, and of course, I wish I could go through it again through this program, because all of the elements of law school for me that were missing — the support, the structure, the focus on the outcomes — it wasn’t there for me.
SUSAN: Well, I wish I could go to Cornell College.
JONATHAN: Oh, it’s a great place. It’s an incredible place.
SUSAN: I know. Kaitlynn, let me ask you, will the Legal Education Program replace the LSAT?
KAITLYNN: No, Susan, that is not our intention. Our intention is actually to offer a second pathway. We understand different students have different needs. And we think it’s really important that they have different choices.
We imagine there’ll be students who still take the LSAT, lots of them. Also, there’ll be students who do both, because they have choices, and because each program offers something different to students.
So it’s really important that we consider what students need, that we meet them where they’re at, and we give them these different opportunities. But we also understand that they may make their own pathways as well, and we just want to make sure that they have options.
SUSAN: Thank you, Kaitlynn Griffith, and thank you, President Brand, for joining us. This has been a wonderful conversation, and I’m very excited to see what happens next.
KAITLYNN: Thanks, Susan.
JONATHAN: Thank you very much.
SUSAN: To our listeners, thank you for joining us at Keeping Up to DataSM. We look forward to your joining our next episode, when we will continue to take a close look at the data from the current admission cycle and bring you an interesting interview, too. Until next time, stay well.
Thank you for joining us. Keeping Up to DataSM is a production of LSAC. If you want to learn more about the current law school admission cycle and the latest trends and news, visit us at LSAC.org.