LSAC Throws a Temper Tantrum

August 17th, 2016 / By

The Law School Admissions Council has thrown its latest tantrum.

In a letter to admissions professionals around the country, LSAC’s president, Daniel Bernstine, signaled that LSAC would stop certifying the accuracy of each law school’s LSAT and undergraduate GPA statistics. The certification is a joint effort between LSAC and the ABA to prevent law schools from lying about their admissions statistics.

LSAC agreed to certify admissions statistics in 2012 after months of roundly dismissing calls for certification. The group had claimed that certification would be cost prohibitive, despite nearly $60 million in total revenue in 2011 and a $10.7 million surplus in 2012. The group also claimed that certification was outside the scope of its organizational mission, despite its member law schools saying that LSAC was best positioned to protect the integrity of the admissions process.

Pressure mounted in 2011 and 2012 for LSAC to help the ABA after two law schools intentionally reported fraudulent data to the ABA and elsewhere, including to U.S. News and World Report for their annual law school rankings. In February 2011, Villanova University School of Law reported that an official at the law school intentionally reported fabricated LSAT and GPA statistics for an unknown number of years prior to 2010. Later that year, the University of Illinois College of Law admitted to intentionally fabricating the same statistics over a seven-year period. The school’s assistant dean for admissions and financial aid, Paul Pless, resigned as a result of the controversy.

This tantrum is LSAC’s second one this year. Both came after the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law announced that the school would allow applicants to submit GRE scores in place of LSAT scores.

At that time, LSAC threatened to strip Arizona of its membership, which would eliminate access to a variety of services. LSAC walked back the threat in May after pressure from its membership and anti-trust concerns.

So why is the ABA now the latest recipient of LSAC’s retribution?

In response to law schools hoping to utilize the GRE as a non-exclusive alternative to the LSAT, which is designed and administered by LSAC, the ABA is examining whether the GRE meets Standard 503. That standard provides that schools must use a “valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education.” The LSAT is the only nationally validated test as of right now, though Arizona independently validated the GRE and other schools are trying to also.

The rankings cause pressure to lie

Under the agreement with the ABA, LSAC currently oversees a process that involves matching LSAT scores and GPAs to matriculated students and calculating 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles for the school’s entering class. Schools may then choose to have LSAC verify the numbers submitted to the ABA.

Like any sales job, deans and directors of admissions live and die by their ability to produce quality incoming classes. Pless’s salary increases, not to mention his continued employment, were tied to the LSAT scores, GPAs, and number of new students, according to an internal investigation.

With LSAT and GPA medians contributing substantially to a law school’s rank, the U.S. News rankings drive all types of behavior, including data manipulation.

Law schools, LST, and others demanded certification to dissuade fraud and provide a signal to the public that law school data could be trusted. It appears to have done the job very well. The public trusts admissions statistics, and there have been zero reports of admissions data fraud.

The incentive to cheat remains, however.

According to Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, all law schools participated in the certification process in the most recent year. At the June hearing for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, Currier said that “we now have a lot of confidence because of that process that the admissions data is accurate.” The ABA was under fire at the hearing for, among other things, data integrity.

With LSAC intending to suspend the certification process, Currier said that the Council for the Section of Legal Education will need to consider how to move forward if LSAC moves forward with its plan. He pointed out that law schools will nevertheless be required to report the data on the annual questionnaire, and that “the requirement for honest reporting laid out in [Standard] 509 applies, with or without certification.”

What does LSAC say this is about?

The letter to the law schools from LSAC states that “we are no longer confident that our certification will present an accurate and complete profile of law school matriculants.”

LSAC claims it is responding to critics who accuse GRE-law schools (e.g. Arizona) of seeking to game the U.S. News rankings. The schools respond that, in the face of declining applicant pools and applicant quality, they want to expand the scope of possible, qualified students. Further, the GRE is offered as a computer-delivered test year round. The LSAT is available only four times per year.

So what is this really about?

LSAC has a lot at stake.

In 2014, LSAC received more than $24 million in revenue from administering the LSAT, according to the organization’s Form 990. LSAC also brought in an additional $18 million from students using its Credential Assembly Service, which standardizes undergraduate GPAs using student transcripts. This represents more than 90% of LSAC’s program revenue.

LSAC also has many highly paid employees with every incentive to keep the gravy train going. Bernstine, for example, made almost $700,000 in 2014.

LSAC’s claim that they cannot “present an accurate and complete profile of law school matriculants” is absurd. What LSAC is saying is that, because some people take the GRE, the stamp of approval on entering statistics is inappropriate because it will only include LSAT takers and not GRE takers.

This is a not-so-subtle attempt to stop schools from considering the GRE. But:

(1) Not all students have undergraduate GPAs. LSAC still certifies GPA statistics.

(2) The University of Arizona is the only law school in the country currently accepting GRE scores for applicants. Several law schools are studying whether the GRE provides a valid and reliable admissions test. Other schools are watching to see the results and how LSAC continues to react.

(3) A number of law schools had a variance from the ABA, which allowed them to not use an admissions test. LSAC still certified these schools.

(3) Most importantly, LSAC was not certifying class quality when they agreed to certify admissions statistics. And that’s not what is happening now. They are protecting against fraud — two schools straight up lied about their statistics to get a boost in U.S. News. As of now, there’s no incentive to lie about GRE scores.

Parting thoughts

I spoke to several admissions professionals on the condition of anonymity, as they feared retribution from LSAC for speaking out against what one professional described as “disingenuous, offensive, and ridiculous treatment.”

According to that same professional, Susan L Krinsky, chair of LSAC’s board of trustees provided “a full-on tongue lashing about how dare we not appreciate the free services we get from LSAC” at LSAC’s annual member meeting in June 2016.

LSAC reminded members in the recent letter about all of the services the organization provides to law schools “free of charge or with significant subsidies.” The subsidies come from a variety of student fees, which LSAC has increased in recent years by more than 40%, in part due to fewer LSAT takers and law school applicants.

Bernstine and Krinsky then attached a list of these services to the letter.

LSAC plans to listen to input from law schools on whether to suspend certification, but declined to provide any more details when I asked.

What makes LSAC’s action here so infuriating is that they are trying to claim that the ABA’s future possible actions on the GRE somehow jeopardizes their certification system today. That is 100% wrong. The next round of certification would happen well before the ABA took any kind of final action, and well before other schools managed to adopt the GRE as a non-exclusive alternative.

It shows how dishonest LSAC is being.

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  • publius

    So in other words, the ABA-accredited law schools that are entrusted with teaching future lawyers the basics of attorney ethics, which include concepts such as total candor to the tribunal, see Model Ethics Rule 3.3, cannot be trusted to be truthful with disclosing admissions information.

    Got it.

  • worldwithoutmend

    Please keep up the good work Kyle. It has to be gratifying to work on something that matters. It must also be eye-opening to deal with a micro-economy so full of bad actors that are so overly confident. It’s amazing society works at all. Cheers to one of the good ones!

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