Each spring U.S. News & World Report issues its rankings of American law schools, exerting enormous pressure on deans and faculties to reshape admissions practices and divert scarce resources. One Dean, Alfredo Garcia from St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami Gardens, FL, refused to submit statistical data this year, becoming the first to boycott the rankings. See, “Florida Law Dean Boycotts ‘U.S. News’ Rankings Survey,” by Julie Kay, Daily Business Review, May 3, 2010.
The Society of American Law Teachers—SALT—issued a statement today urging law school deans and faculty members to work with the American Bar Association—ABA—to reduce the influence of the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Download a pdf of the full Statement. Briefly, SALT states:
1. Chief among the rankings’ ill effects is their impact on admissions decisions in general, and on diversity in admissions in particular. Because LSAT scores figure so prominently into the computation of a school’s rank, few schools are willing to compromise their ranking by accepting “nontraditional” students whose merit is measured in ways other than a single test score. Admissions officers from around the country consistently report that the rankings constrain their ability to accept deserving and otherwise qualified students with relatively low LSAT scores. Instead of admitting students with promising undergraduate records and diverse life experiences, these admissions officers must all too often strategically choose the student whose LSAT score helps to maintain or improve the school’s ranking.
2. The U.S. News rankings’ emphasis on LSAT scores directly undercuts a school’s ability to admit a diverse class. Given the well documented but little understood performance gap on standardized tests, the emphasis on LSAT scores necessarily impacts members of groups who under-perform on such tests. Indeed, the recent report of the ABA’s Presidential Initiative Committee on Diversity recommends de-emphasizing the rankings because of their adverse impact on applicants of color. Further, given the correlation between family income and test scores, over-reliance on the LSAT also necessarily favors admitting students from affluent backgrounds. The rankings’ emphasis on the LSAT thus serves to homogenize the entering class and ultimately the profession.
3. The U.S. News rankings’ emphasis on the LSAT also affects how law schools conceptualize merit in determining which of their applicants will be successful and proficient lawyers. Although the LSAT correlates to some small degree with first year performance in law school, neither the LSAT nor undergraduate GPA are indicators of ultimate success in the profession. Recent research reveals that there are alternate ways of assessing who is likely to be a successful attorney. Marjorie Schultz and Sheldon Zedeck have identified twenty-six factors, none measured by the LSAT, that correlate with effective lawyering. These factors include practical judgment, creativity and innovation, passion and engagement, ability to see the world through the eyes of others, networking and business development, diligence, integrity, and honesty.