According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the law school admission test (LSAT), the mean score of African American test-takers in 2014 was 142 compared with the mean score of 153 for Caucasians — a difference that can affect admissions.
While results for all standardized tests, including the SAT and GRE, show similar disparities between these racial groups, law school deans believe that opening the door to accept other tests as a part of admissions criteria will make law school more accessible for underrepresented groups.
In 2016, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law began accepting GRE scores — a decision that set the review and subsequent debate about reliance on the LSAT into motion.
“Use of the GRE gives us access to a broader group of students who may not decide to pursue a law degree until later in their education or into their career,” explains Marc L. Miller, JD, dean of the law school. Because the GRE is offered online and at multiple test sites throughout the year, it is more convenient to take compared with the LSAT, which is offered only a few times a year, Miller points out. “About 700,000 students — even college juniors — take the GRE each year compared to 150,000 people who take the LSAT,” he says. “We can reach students who may be pursuing a STEM undergraduate degree but are interested in law school if they can use their GRE score.”
Miller believes the ability to reach more students will increase the diversity of the pool of law school applicants. “We want to attract a diverse group of students that reflects the community they will serve in terms of ethnicity, age, and gender, and the GRE gives us that opportunity.”
As the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates considers a recommendation to eliminate the requirement that the LSAT or a standardized test be considered in admissions decisions, most law school administrators recognize that the LSAT will continue to be used in conjunction with other tests or information. For that reason, programs like the University of Baltimore (UB) School of Law’s Fannie Angelos Program for Academic Excellence play an important role in increasing the likelihood of admission to law school.
“It isn’t that African Americans are not smart enough to do well on the LSAT — it’s that they don’t have access to people who know how to play the game,” explains Michael Meyerson, JD, a law professor and the program’s director. Fannie Angelos helps these students by increasing their awareness of and providing them access to LSAT prep courses, mentors, and opportunities to meet people working in the legal profession.
The program primarily targets students at four local historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) — Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Students apply to the program for one of two experiences: the Angelos Scholars Program or the LSAT Award Program.
For Angelos Scholars, Meyerson and his colleague Michael Higginbotham identify eight undergraduate applicants to participate in a two-week summer boot camp on UB’s campus. Students engage in classes, case studies, and writing assignments. They also visit law firms and speak with attorneys, judges, and elected officials to learn about career tracks as well as tips for law school success.
Following the summer session, Angelos Scholars enroll in a semester-long LSAT prep course, which they take while continuing their undergraduate senior year. Additionally, they are assigned a mentor to help guide them and offer advice on how to manage their time in order to be successful, says Meyerson, adding that mentors continue working with the students even after they enroll and throughout law school.
While the full cost of the summer session and the LSAT prep course is covered by the program, the real value of Angelos Scholars is full tuition to UB’s School of Law should a student score high enough on the LSAT and maintain undergraduate grades to meet all admission requirements. The median LSAT score for a recent entering class was 152, and the median GPA was 3.18. Students, however, can apply to and seek scholarships at any law school, Meyerson adds.
The other component of Fannie Angelos — the LSAT Award Program — covers most of the $1,799 cost of a Princeton Review LSAT prep course for 72 students who have an undergraduate GPA of at least a 3.0. “We pay for all but $100 of the fee,” says Meyerson.
He believes that increasing awareness of the process for preparing for the LSAT and law school, as well as the career opportunities that are available in the legal profession, is important. “Lower LSAT scores are a barrier that can be overcome by preparation,” explains Meyerson. “Unfortunately, [many] students don’t know how to prepare, and this program offers that support.”
LSAC recognizes that attending a private LSAT prep class is not possible for all students, which is why the organization partnered with the nonprofit educational organization the Khan Academy to offer a free, online course, says Kent Lollis, executive director of diversity initiatives at LSAC. “There are two types of preparation for the LSAT: the long-term preparation of undergraduate education that teaches you to think logically and shorter-term test preparation in commercial courses,” he explains. “People who take test preparation courses tend to score higher, but we constantly hear that the cost of these courses is a barrier for many students.”
The Khan Academy’s self-paced, online course, which launched in June, diagnoses each student’s strengths and weaknesses. It guides them through lessons and practice questions, and videos, articles, and explanations cover every concept on the LSAT. As weaknesses turn into strengths, students track their progress toward their goal. Test-takers are also able to take the entire test from start to finish to hone their time-management skills in order to prepare for the three-hour exam.
Nearly 5,000 test-takers who were registered for the June LSAT used the Khan Academy’s Official LSAT Prep for one month prior as beta testers. “The alpha and beta tests of the course showed good results for diverse groups, including African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos,” says Lollis.
“Students will have to put in the work to complete the course, review the material, and learn from the feedback, but it offers a preparation opportunity that has not existed [before] for some students,” he adds. “I even see the opportunity for students to form LSAT prep clubs or study groups on campuses to keep everyone focused and motivated.”
Lollis is encouraging HBCUs to use the Khan Academy course as a foundation for such study groups in order to prepare students to take the LSAT. “We see this resource as a valuable tool to break down barriers to LSAT preparation for all groups,” he says.
Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article ran in our July/August 2018 issue.