The LSAT is the most important part of your law school application. There, I said it. I’m sorry if this comes as a surprise or a disappointment to anyone. But it’s true. In a recent Kaplan survey, 65 percent of law school admissions officers said that the LSAT is the “most important admissions factor” when choosing a new student. But once you accept that truth, the next question is why.
Why is the LSAT the most important part of your application? Why isn’t it like the SAT or ACT and exist as a small piece of the admissions puzzle? Three reasons: (1) The LSAT tests something real; (2) Law school rankings take the LSAT into account when listing schools; and (3) Law firms use the LSAT to compare candidates.
The LSAT isn’t just important to applicants because it’s important to law school admissions officers. It’s important to law school admissions officers because it’s important to the school. Its rank and the employability of its students depend on the LSAT. Yes, it’s unfair the way all standardized tests are. But it’s here to stay. And if you don’t get a good enough score to get into your dream school, best to keep studying and try again.
The LSAT tests something real: Success in law school
According to LSAC, the organization that writes and administers the LSAT, the test “is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school.” These include: “the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.” I understand if you don’t believe you really needed a standardized test to tell you or show a law school that you can read with “accuracy and insight” or “think critically.” That’s what your transcript and recommendations are supposed to demonstrate, right?
But no matter what you think of the test, it’s no mistake that LSAT scores correlate so well with success in law school. As Blueprint’s Most Strongly Supported blog points out, “The LSAT tests your ability to work like a dog, and so does law school…By showing you have the ability to excel on the LSAT, you’re showing law schools that you can at least focus for three months on a course of study. The ability to intensely focus on something is key.”
Law school rankings take the LSAT into account: School prestige
Rankings are a major player in the LSAT conspiracy (if we’re going to call it that). The U.S. News law school rankings weighs the median LSAT scores of all new JD students heavily when making its top schools list. In truth, that’s putting it lightly. In a 1998 report commissioned by the Association of American Law Schools called “The Validity of the U.S. News and World Report Ranking of ABA Law Schools”, Stephen P. Klein and Laura Hamilton write that “90% of the overall differences in ranks among schools can be explained solely by the median LSAT score of their entering classes.” They continue: “all of the other 10 factors [ed. besides LSAT and academic reputation] U.S. News measures (such as placement of graduates) have virtually no effect on the overall ranks and because of measurement problems, what little influence they do have may lead to reducing rather than increasing the validity of the results.” Since median LSAT scores are so important to a school’s ranking, there is significant pressure on law school admissions to accept applicants who have high scores. Though U.S. News’ Bob Morse says that the ranking’s measurement of the median LSAT rather than the average allows schools to accept applicants with lower scores “without negatively affecting their U.S. News ranking,” let’s be honest. 90 percent of rank can be explained by median LSAT–too big for schools to ignore.
Law firms use the LSAT to compare candidates and schools: Employment prospects
In the 2005-2006 BCG Attorney Search Guide to Class Ranking Distinctions and Law Review Admission at America’s Top 50 Law Schools, the consulting firm explains the importance of the LSAT and other law school admissions numbers to associate hiring.
The LSAT reputedly measures legal aptitude at a given point in time…Whereas grades require some subjective evaluation, an LSAT score does not: it stands immutable and is not subject to interpretation and manipulation. Unlike grades, what makes the LSAT such a powerful influence is that once a law school or law firm knows a candidate attorney’s LSAT score, it knows with some certainly how this candidate’s raw “legal aptitude” ranks in comparison with others, regardless of the quality of the student’s undergraduate institution or the relative rigor of the courses taken.
The LSAT is an equalizer among law students much like any other standardized test is for a group of students in the same degree across different schools. Firms use LSAT to compare candidates with identical GPAs from, say, Georgetown University and University of Pennsylvania. Because schools know that their students are being evaluated by potential employers on the bases of their scores, they want their students to have the highest scores possible and thereby the best job prospects. Moreover, it would be silly to assume that firms don’t look at rankings. Of course they do. And if you are competing with a student from a similarly ranked school for a job, your LSAT is likely to be even more important.
This post is authored by Carolyn C. Wise, Vault.com’s Senior Education Editor. She oversees the production of 10 annual guides covering undergraduate and graduate admissions, top internships, and career advice compilations for entry-level law and MBA job seekers. Her team is responsible for all educational content on Vault.com, including law school profiles, admissions advice, LSAT prep and law school industry trends articles. Carolyn reminds students that, “studying is important, but it isn’t everything. Volunteer, or join a club or sports team. This will make you happier overall–and more attractive to potential employers.”
For more on this topic and to hear directly from top law school admissions deans, consultants, and test prep providers, check out these Law School Podcaster episodes: