The LSAT is arguably the single most important factor in determining
your admission to law school. Although most law schools will
read your entire file before making an admissions decision, the "numbers," meaning
the LSAT and the GPA, are often decisive. Why does the LSAT matter
The LSAT was designed to give law schools a way to measure
and compare the performance of all applicants. It is the only
criterion for doing so, really, because it is hard to compare,
say, a GPA from Northeastern Illinois University to a GPA from the
University of Nebraska, or any other school.
The LSAT is designed to predict your success in the first
year of law school. That's it. It doesn't mean that you will
be a good or bad law student, or a good or bad lawyer. It only
predicts first year performance. And, as standardized tests
go, it is a rather good predictor of that.
Unfortunately, over the years, law schools have relied increasingly
on the LSAT, using it not as a predictor of first year performance,
but as a measure of an applicant's abilities generally. The
law schools are relying on the test even though they know that
it is not designed to predict very much. Why rely on the LSAT?
The primary reason seems to be competition between law schools
for students with high LSAT scores. This competition is driven
by ranking services, most notoriously U.S. News and World Report,
that rank a school in part by its median LSAT score. A school
that wants to improve its national ranking can do so by attracting
students with higher scores, thus shifting the school's median
upward. In short, law schools target students with high scores
because it makes them look good and improves their rank.
Is this fair? Not really, in my view. But the law schools
would respond that they can not ignore U.S. News because, as
much as they think that its rankings are foolish, people nonetheless
respond to them. Students read the rankings and use them to
select their schools. Alumni read the rankings and insist that
their alma maters move up in the ranks. We end up with a vicious
cycle: law schools pay attention to LSAT scores because they
are pressured to pay attention to LSAT scores.
In an effort to decrease reliance on the LSAT, the Law School
Admissions Council (LSAC) is undertaking a pilot program to
test other models for admission, some that rely on the LSAT,
but to a lesser extent, and some that do not use the LSAT at
all. These models have not yet been adopted by any U.S. law
schools, but many schools are beginning to search for alternatives
to the LSAT and numbers generally.
Given this fact, as an applicant, you still need to pay very
close attention to the LSAT and prepare for it thoroughly.
In general, the higher the LSAT score, the more opportunities
you will have for admission to law school. THEREFORE, YOU MUST
DO WELL ON THE LSAT. DO NOT TAKE IT UNTIL YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY
In addition, though, you should spend time "personalizing" your
application. Write a convincing personal statement that tells
the admissions committee about you. Prepare and enclose a resume
for them. Tell them who you are and convince them to consider
factors other than the numbers. Remember, the application is
a package, and many factors ultimately go into a decision to
accept or reject an applicant.
Also, do yourself and others a favor: do not place credence
in U.S. News or other organizations that rank. You need to
select the law school that is right for you. That's an individual
and highly subjective choice. You might attend a highly ranked
school and be miserable, which will not do you any good as
you try to pursue your academic and legal careers. Do your
research and your homework; visit schools if you can. Apply
broadly, so that you have many chances for admission and financial
aid. Ultimately, choose the school that is the right "fit" for
you, and be comfortable with the decision you make.