It's almost cram time for anyone taking that dreaded law school entrance exam next month: the LSAT. Simon Brick, who just graduated from the University of Arizona and has an interest in international law, says he's been studying for the test for months.
Brick hasn't ruled out the possibility of going to law school at Arizona, where he was in a pre-law fraternity. "I know that it is a very good law program," he says. "Right now I'm keeping my options open."
For decades, the LSAT has been a requirement to get into any J.D. degree program, but that's no longer the case at Brick's alma mater. This year Arizona's law school decided it would also accept scores from the GRE, a more general graduate school admissions test.
That means Brick could spend that LSAT Saturday in June eating bonbons, but he won't. Instead he'll muscle through the four-plus-hour test because he's also interested in a handful of programs that do require the LSAT — for now.
So, what's changed?
The American Bar Association says law schools must require a standardized test that's valid and reliably predicts student performance, "but it doesn't say that standardized test must be the LSAT," says Marc Miller, the Arizona law school dean.
He points to a recent study, commissioned by the school, which says the GRE is reliable. And for several reasons Miller also thinks the test is more accessible. For instance, prospective applicants can take it almost any day of the year. The LSAT is offered just four times a year.
Miller hopes that'll expand the pool of applications to Arizona's law school, and with it, the school's racial and ethnic diversity. It's no secret the legal field lacks diversity. According to the last U.S. census, about 88 percent of working lawyers are white.
"It allows us to build a class that will be more diverse in every respect," says Miller.
It's also no secret many fewer people, in general, are interested in being lawyers. That fact has some people skeptical that Arizona's move to the GRE is just about diversity.
"The number of applications and applicants has gone down a lot and law schools right now are looking at ways to fill their seats," says Staci Zaretsky an editor at Above The Law, a blog covering news and issues in the legal industry. She points out that between 2004 and 2014 the number of law school applicants dropped from about 100,000 to roughly 55,000.
Then, there's this. The Law School Admissions Council, the group that oversees the administration of the LSAT, recently considered whether the University of Arizona could lose its membership for violating council bylaws.
Deans from 149 other law schools (that's nearly as many deans as there are law schools the U.S.) didn't think that was a good idea. They wrote a letter in support of U of A, urging the council to reconsider. And it did.
Miller, Arizona's law school dean, has always maintained the move to the GRE is more about innovation. "Has the downturn led us to think about the different ways we can broaden the base? Absolutely. We don't view this as a bad thing," he says.
Brick, the law school hopeful, agrees that the move to the GRE could be a step in the right direction, "I think it's good because it fosters a more diverse environment."
But he says he can't ignore the idea that the LSAT tests for a very specific skill set that students will use in law school. "Allowing the GRE to be used for admittance is kind of undermining the work that law school students have put in in the past to get into law school," he says.
The University of Hawaii and Wake Forest University in North Carolina are also studying the possibility of switching. GRE officials say about a dozen other schools are showing interest, too.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
If you want to go to law school, you have to take the LSAT, the dreaded Law School Admissions Test, at least that's the way it's worked for decades. Now one school in Arizona says applicants can skip the LSAT. And as Carrie Jung at member station KJZZ reports, more could follow.
CARRIE JUNG, BYLINE: On a recent spring evening at the University of Arizona, about 20 members of the co-ed prelaw fraternity Phi Alpha Delta are gathered. President Shannon Sylvester calls the group to order.
SHANNON SYLVESTER: All right, we're going to go ahead and start our meeting. We do have two upcoming opportunities for LSAT practice coming up.
JUNG: Simon Brick is a senior, and he's one of several people here studying for the LSAT right now. Brick plans on applying to about five law schools in the next few months, including this one, the University of Arizona.
SIMON BRICK: Right now I'm keeping my options open. But I know that I'm interested in international law, and I know it has a very good immigration law program.
JUNG: But this fall, he could skip out on having to take the LSAT - well, at least to get into the University of Arizona's law school. Earlier this year, the school announced it would also accept scores from the Graduate Record Exam, or as it's commonly known, the GRE. The American Bar Association says law schools must require a standardized test that is valid and reliably predicts student performance.
MARC MILLER: But it doesn't say that that standardized test must be LSAT.
JUNG: Marc Miller is the dean of the U of A law school, He points to a study that says the GRE is reliable. And he thinks it's more accessible in part because students can take it most any day of the year instead of just four times a year with the LSAT. That, he hopes, will help expand the pool of applicants and with it the school's racial diversity. It's no secret the legal field lacks it. According to the last U.S. census, about 88 percent of working lawyers were white.
MILLER: It allows us to then build a class that will be more diverse in every respect.
STACI ZARETSKY: I have a much more critical point of view about this.
JUNG: Staci Zaretsky is an editor at abovethelaw.com, a blog covering news and issues in the legal industry. She argues diversity may be one of the motivators, but student enrollment and money are also major factors.
ZARETSKY: The number of applications and applicants have both gone down a lot. And schools right now are looking at ways to fill their seats.
JUNG: Zaretsky points out law school applications peaked in 2004 at around 100,000. By 2014, that dropped to roughly 55,000. She doesn't have a dog in this fight. But the Law School Admissions Council, the group that administers the LSAT, does.
Recently, the Council's board of trustees considered whether the U of A could lose its membership for violating council bylaws. Marc Miller, the U of A law school dean, has always maintained the move to the GRE is more about innovation.
MILLER: Has the downturn led us to think about the different ways in which we can broaden the base? Absolutely. We don't view that as a bad thing.
JUNG: And 149 other law school deans agreed. They wrote a letter to the council urging it to reconsider, and it did. As for law school hopeful Simon Brick, he has mixed feelings.
BRICK: I think it's good because it fosters a more diverse environment.
JUNG: But he argues the LSAT tests for a very specific skill set that students will use in law school.
BRICK: Allowing the GRE to be used for admittance is kind of undermining the work that law school students have put it in the past.
JUNG: The University of Hawaii and Wake Forest in North Carolina are also studying the possibility of switching. And GRE officials say about a dozen other schools have also shown an interest. For NPR News, I'm Carrie Jung in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.