Recently, there has been some discussion – here, here, here, and here – on whether the American Bar Association (“ABA”) should set minimum LSAT requirement(s) to get into law school. Some have argued that students with low LSAT scores are incapable of being good lawyers:
The intellectual difference between someone who scores a 150 versus a 155 isn’t that big, usually it falls down to outside factors such as whether the person actually studied for the exam.
Between a 150 and a 145 however, the difference is dramatic… the 145 has no place being enrolled in law school much less be allowed to drag down the school’s bar pass rate.
Jdunderground.com user “flyer.” It should first be noted that, in many ways, the LSAT is just a proxy for IQ. Like other professions, law requires above-average intelligence. Further, some areas of the law, e.g., tax, require exceptional intelligence. Also, exceptional IQs are found at the top of all legal specialties. However, I disagree that anything more than an above-average IQ is required in all areas of the law. Some of the law is incredibly rote. It is more about reaching basic deals and filling out paperwork than it is complex legal analysis. Additionally, many trials and hearings have simple issues and are more about making an emotional connection with the jury or judge than they are about logical argument. A people person with a 145 LSAT will probably excel in these areas more than a hermit with a 170 LSAT.
With that said, it’s not as if people with low LSATs have greater interpersonal skills than people with high LSATs. Rather, people with higher IQs tend to have greater emotional intelligence than people with lower IQs. So, while there may be diamonds in the rough, it is still risky to take a chance on students with low LSAT scores because many of them will end up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and never pass the bar. In 2016, for example, the bar passage rate for Arizona Summit Law School was 25%. Sure, there are diamonds in the rough in that 25%, but at what cost if the vast majority of students have crippling debt and cannot practice law?
So, I get the temptation to set a minimum LSAT score. But, if we go this route, what do we set the minimum score at? Scores vary considerably by race and region. For example, in 2013-14, the mean White/Caucasian score was 152.75, while the mean Black/African American score was 141.76. How can we set the score at 145 when it will prevent some of the top-half of black students from becoming lawyers? We need black lawyers. Another problem arises when we consider LSAT scores by region. In 2013-14, New England had an LSAT average of 153.08, while the Southeast had an LSAT average of 147.02. Setting a mean cutoff score would have little effect on the Northeast, which has a glut of lawyers, but it would impoverish rural areas of the Southeast, which have a dearth of lawyers.
We could set cutoff scores that vary by race and region, but like many affirmative action programs, this would be controversial and create division. We could trust law schools to limit the admission of lower performing students to areas of need, but many of these schools already grab student loan money wherever they can find it and admit students they know have little hope of passing the bar. Perhaps, a better solution would be for the ABA or Congress to start demanding better bar passage rates. Then again, that may just lead to making the bar exam easier. What’s the solution?