The ABA’s Abdication of Responsibility: Winners (Law Schools and The Bar Cartel) and Losers (Law Students) in the Rule Abandoning the LSAT (and Any Testing Requirement) for Law School Admissions

•June 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

One reason regulation gets a bad name is because of regulatory hypocrisy.  The American Bar Association’s logo banners: “Defending Liberty Pursuing Justice.”  I guess you have to ask “for whom?”

The ABA will bring to a full vote in August its proposal—approved by relevant committees of, well, the ABA—to “eliminate the requirement of a ‘valid and reliable test’ as part of a law school’s admissions process.”

I’ve criticized the ABA’s lack of oversight over the law school admission process and law schools before.  Just look in this blog’s index under “ABA” or “American Bar Association.”  But then the ABA appears to consider action, so I wait and hope.  But it always comes out the same.  Regulations that might actually rein in abusive law school practices (or improve the admissions process, or tighten admissions, or, well, you name any proposal in the interest of law students) go by the boards, while regulations, like this one, that respond to what law schools want, get adopted.

The regulation finally adopted by ABA committees wasn’t just to allow the GRE to be used alongside or in lieu of the LSAT, it was to say, Oh, who cares about any of it?

Well, law schools care (and the ABA is giving them a win), and prospective law students care (and the ABA is telling them to pound sand, in the guise of opening the process).

The reason to take off testing requirements is simply to respond to a tough market for law schools where a lot of law schools—many of whom probably shouldn’t be in business since what they do is put a lot of people in debt that they’ll never get out of—need bodies in seats to pay their bills.  As Vivia Chen says (and her article is well worth reading in full), “why do away with something like the LSAT that tests for logical thinking and critical analysis—the stuff that actually gives you a flavor of what law school entails?…The reason is obvious: Law schools are worried that they won’t have enough warm bodies to fill their seats so they want to make the application easy, breezy and spontaneous.  Just what society needs: More people diving heedlessly into the legal profession.”

You might think the new rule will be a win for prospective law students and future lawyers.  It’s not.  First, because the vast majority of law school applicants will still take a standardized test, and most of those will take the LSAT.  There is no requirement for law schools to insist on a standardized test but most can and will insist on one for their applicants.

Second,  because the cartel-like nature of bar admissions will continue.  State bar associations generally don’t determine bar passage on the basis of a score—not, you get 70%, you pass, for example—but on the basis of how many new lawyers the state bar association wants, to cover retirements, attrition and the like.  So some years you need a higher score and some years a lower score will be fine.

The reason for that is simple—it’s to protect current lawyers and make sure they don’t face too much, um, competition.  From better lawyers.  It’s why someone who passed, say, the Florida bar yesterday is able to practice in Florida whereas someone who has practiced superbly for 30 years elsewhere can’t practice in Florida because they haven’t passed the all-important Florida bar.  It has nothing to do with legal ability, and certain state bar associations are pretty up-front about that (at least behind closed doors while crowing publicly about protecting the public).  It’s to protect their cartel members.  Period.

That won’t change, so there’s no victory for prospective law student here.  The number of lawyers will still be determined anti-competitively.  Bar associations are a medieval guild and—if it were anyone other than lawyers doing it (maybe doctors, too)—it would violate antitrust laws.

So there’s no victory for prospective law students.  But there is a clear defeat.  It’s worth something to be able to look at test data to get a decent idea of who your prospective law school classmates will be.  The opportunity cost to go to law school is about a quarter of a million dollars, give or take a few bucks, and the thing about investment decisions like that is that you’d like the people you’re tossing money to to be pretty transparent.

What the ABA is about to do is eliminate what transparency there now is.  Now law schools will be able to fudge numbers with much wider latitude, giving you the impression that a student body is more accomplished than it actually is.  You will be more reliant simply on what law schools tell you, since the LSAT numbers—which weren’t a tremendous help but were some—are now off the boards as a reliable indicator of a student body.  If as a law school, I can get 50 people with high scores, and then admit a bunch of other people who have taken no standardized tests, my numbers (and likely my ranking) jump and I can provide applicants with a technically accurate yet utterly false picture of my class.   And one thing law schools are really good at is gaming the system.  Whatever the high-flown verbiage, this new rule will say simply “Game the system all you want.”  Or “Lie all you want while telling the truth.”  At the expense of law students, since only law schools can play the game.

This is regulatory capture in its fullest sense—the ABA is doing the bidding of those it is supposed to be regulating while doing nothing—harming, actually–those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of its regulation.

I guess this is ok for businesses like mine, since what law students will more and more need is guidance to see through the games that law schools will surely play, since the ABA has said happy hunting on law school candidates.  But avoiding the enhanced weaponry that the ABA has given law schools shouldn’t be necessary, not for people who can pay my fee, and not for people who can’t.  The ABA should do what it says its job is—defend liberty (for everyone) and pursue justice (for everyone) or it should stop saying it’s protecting prospective law students.  Or it should change its logo to say “Defending Liberty for Law Schools and Lawyers” and drop the nonsense about justice entirely.

But it won’t do any of that because then its jig would be up.  The ABA’s cynical regulatory cleverness is to give lip service to justice and liberty while doing, in the end, no more than protecting its own—law schools and current lawyers.   Not for the first time, the ABA should be ashamed.  But it isn’t—it will continue to spout self-righteous clap-trap about justice and liberty while doing the opposite.

20 Years of Law School Admissions and LSAT Prep—And Running

•May 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Tuesday was my wedding anniversary.  It occurred to me that I have been helping clients with law school admission, financial aid and LSAT preparation for longer than I have been married.  Both seem shorter than they’ve been.

I’ve been helping prospective law students for more than 20 years.  There are companies that are have been around longer but mostly they change out staff every year or two.  Most college and university pre-law advisors have been on the job for far less time than I have. 

Singular experience matters, as long as it doesn’t lead to tired, by-the-numbers work.  My clients make sure that mine doesn’t; they constantly present new challenges, or new twists on old challenges.  The law school and legal markets have changed over the years as well, from a hot market with too many applicants to a chillier one that caused some law schools to close and others to retrench.  Each of those changes causes shifts in how my clients and I approach our work, including the right application targets and financial aid possibilities.

Our success has been extraordinary.  From a very small client base, in the first year of Advise-In, clients secured admission to all of the top 20-ranked law schools.  We’ve only gotten stronger, helping clients secure in the last year, an average increase in their LSAT of over 13 points and over 40 percentiles.  Not the end of the story, of course, because the application package and admissions strategies make a tremendous difference in both admissions and financial aid awards.

So, 20 years of success and it keeps building.  We are looking forward to an even more impressive year next year…and the year after…and the year after that.  Just as in a successful marriage, commitment and dedication are two of the secrets.

Advise-In Solutions LSAT Results Continue to be Outstanding

•April 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

During the past year, my clients and I have achieved truly outstanding LSAT results (to say nothing of admissions and financial aid results that come partly from their LSAT results and partly as the result of putting together outstanding application packages and admissions/financial aid strategies).

From start to finish, my clients have averaged increased scores of over 13 points and over 42 percentiles.  That means that, on average, they have passed nearly half of everyone who was in front of them when they started.  Increases of around those numbers on an annual basis have been hallmarks of Advise-In Solutions since we started in 2010.

The fact that these increases are averages actually underestimates the impact in many cases; those who started at a higher point didn’t have 40 percentiles to improve, since they already started above the 60th percentile.

These results show what I’ve always said—the LSAT is a predictable test and in that way is unlike other so-called standardized tests—whether the GRE, the SAT, the ACT or any others.  That means that if you focus on the limited universe of material that you need to master, and do it in the most straightforward jargon-free way, you can make a lot of progress, improving your admissions and financial aid prospects markedly as a result.

I’m very happy with these results, though not, I suspect, as happy as my clients, who understood that their investment in terrific LSAT preparation with someone as committed to their success as they are (as distinct from a simple algorithm that leaves them on their own) was well worth it.  It is old-school; it also works.

LSAT or GRE for Law School: Not an Easy (or Cost-Free) Choice for Law School Applicants

•April 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Karen Sloan recently published a helpful summary of the debate between the LSAT and GRE for law school admissions.  As of now, 17 law schools indicate they will accept a GRE score rather than an LSAT score, and more may well follow.

What is clear is why:  law schools want to maintain their admissions numbers (read: their revenue) and want to have maximum flexibility to do so without taking a law school “rankings” hit when they do it.

There is no requirement that law schools report a GRE score to the American Bar Association, and the ABA is not currently considering such a rule as far as I know.  So, what accepting the GRE allows law schools to do is to accept people they want to accept while still maintaining a median LSAT score that will avoid damaging their rankings.

I suppose that is ok if you are a law school applicant (more on that later) but to be clear: the reason law school want this is so that they can keep admission revenue high while appearing to be as “competitive” as they have been in the past.

The people—other than law schools and their revenue—that this helps fall into two categories.  First, people who for whatever reason just can’t get around on the LSAT but who otherwise enormously attractive to law schools.  (And who are willing to limit their options to just a few schools.)  There are not that many of those people since the LSAT is, in my view, a bit more rigorous—and therefore more predictable and somewhat easier—test than the GRE (I’ve taken both and did well on both, but especially appreciated the limited universe that the LSAT tested, which meant it was a lot easier to study for, and less culturally bound).

In any case, though, there are a few people in that first category—tremendously attractive but with a bit of a block about the LSAT.  That’s good.

The second category is less savory—those who didn’t do particularly well on either the LSAT or the GRE, so who (if their scores were reported) would make a law school look less competitive.  In other words, they are people who would likely not get into a given law school otherwise but that a law school can now accept—and whose money they will get—while maintaining “deniability” that their admissions standards have declined.  A nice sleight-of-hand and purely a revenue generator.

That brings up a final point—and the most important for law school applicants.  By and large, my admissions clients who have applied solely on the basis of the GRE have been considerably less successful at obtaining financial aid at comparable institutions with comparable application packages than my LSAT and admission clients (even if their percentiles on the two tests are also quite similar).  This is a small sample size but it’s nonetheless worrying.  What it tells me is that the GRE is just a revenue generator, and that if you’re applying on the basis of the GRE, at least right now, your chances of significant merit-based financial aid are lower.

That conclusion—that the high-flown philosophical pronouncements from law schools are really mostly about law schools’ revenues—is unfortunate but also unsurprising.  If you’re a law school applicant, you need to be aware that taking the option of taking the GRE or LSAT is not a cost-free choice.

Law School Employment Data: What to Trust When There’s No Question of Trust

•March 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a terrific piece by Jill Backer in the New York Law Journal that every prospective law student and law school advisor should read carefully.  It is a brief and useful examination of the various metrics that are used by law schools and others for the reporting data on employment for students coming out of law school.  I won’t summarize or repeat what the article says here but the basic point is that no one has really figured out how to report employment data that is useful across the board, i.e., for all prospective and current law students.

Over the past few years, the employment data has gotten better.  In the past I was pretty critical of what the ABA required law schools to report, but the standards and specificity of the data have gotten better.  Ms. Backer outlines all of this, so why isn’t she satisfied?

There is a simple answer: there is no summary reporting design that could possibly fulfill every law student’s needs.  Every new piece of reporting data both reveals and conceals something.  This isn’t a question of having to believe that law schools are dishonest or deceptive.  There is no question of trust—or at least, there is not necessarily a question of trust.

The problem lies in the fact that there are tens of thousands of law school students with thousands of different needs and aspirations.  No data set can get to all that.

In turn, that means that if you rely only on reported data, you’re not going to get the targeted information you need to make your best law school decision.  Very few schools have a wide and deep national reach; conversely, for certain occupations (law professors, for example), relatively few schools provide consistent, excellent opportunities for their graduates.

In general, schools are more (or less) limited geographically and by the reputational quality of government, clerkships, firms and other private practice into which they consistently place graduates.  There is also the “depth of bench” factor.  Some schools provide great opportunities only for graduates placing at or above a certain percentage of their classes, others can provide equivalent opportunities further down the bench.  In addition, this information changes on a yearly basis, although there are also consistent patterns.

What all of this means is that law school applicants want to strategize about how to get the information they need to make their best law school investment decision.  It is a process of due diligence on law schools that goes beyond the base data that law schools report to the ABA.  At Advise-In, I spend a lot of time with clients discussing how and when to obtain the information they need to make their best decision.  It’s a critical piece of the admissions puzzle, and one that far too few prospective law students engage in as seriously as they should.   

Best LSAT Prep: It’s Mental Athletics, Prepare That Way (part 2)

•March 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

In my last post, I framed the LSAT as a mental athletic contest.  It is, simple as that.  Your objective isn’t just understanding the material on the LSAT, it’s also performing when you have to perform.  As I said there, most LSAT prep programs don’t spend any attention on the second of these, and that’s one reason why people’s scores often fall on test day—not just a little bit, but dramatically. I’ve had people call me to say that they’ve practiced in the mid-160s, only to have their test day score fall to below 150.  That’s not 4 or 5 questions at the top of the curve, that’s falling from a pretty nice height to well under the 50th percentile.  It’s also not, unfortunately, uncommon.

Last time, I said that just like in a game, you have to approach some basics correctly.  You have to know your opponent (the LSAT, not other test-takers), know that there are rules (the LSAT is not trying to trick you—they can’t without destroying the statistical reliability of the test itself) and know the defense (that is, what are they throwing at you).  Here, I want to talk mostly about the last of these.

There has been nothing new on the LSAT for about 20 years.  The LSAT asks 20 types of questions, no more, and on any given test, they ask about 17 types.  The concentrations vary—sometimes there are path games, sometimes there aren’t, sometimes there are a lot of flaw questions, sometimes more assumption questions, and so on.  But there’s nothing new.

Each of those question types depends on what the LSAT thinks a valid argument is.  That’s hasn’t changed either.  And each of them (including analytical reasoning, which is all about implications) is subject to certain rules.  That is the task of your best LSAT prep—to understand and execute the rules for each question type.  There are significant overlaps in those techniques, but you do have to know that (and how) the LSAT defense deploys a little differently for assumption questions than it does for discrepancy questions (because they are asking about different parts of the argument), for grid games in contrast with line games.

More, you need a rigorous but straightforward process to defeat those defenses.  This is gospel at Advise-In.  If you’re a football fan, as I am, you just see the difference between great and not-so-great quarterback play.  The great quarterbacks are consistent—they go through their reads without fear, and check down until they find the open receiver.  (The analogy isn’t perfect because sometimes the defense surprises, which shouldn’t happen on the LSAT).  The not-so great quarterbacks are fidgeting their feet, their eyes lock on to one receiver, they make ill-advised throws, or their eyes are shifting all over the place in the hope that something will emerge from the chaos.  For them, it is chaos; for the great quarterback, it’s not—they’ve seen the defenses, mostly, and are calm and disciplined.  The game is simply slower and simpler for them

LSAT takers have an additional potential advantage even over the great quarterback.  You’ve seen the LSAT playbook—their released tests—and can infer EXACTLY How they’re thinking about any particular question from the hundreds you have available to work though.

That’s different from random practice, or even a lot of practice that isn’t done with the consistent objective of asking, “How are they thinking so that they arrive at this answer?” “How do I refine my process to get to that answer?” And “How can I get to that answer on test day?”

There will be pressures and distractions on test day, of course.  And that’s another reason to focus on developing a simple, straightforward process—without jargon and without having to do the mental gymnastics that some programs recommend, for example, numbering question types, and so requiring you to translate them into plain language while you’re trying to take the test.  You will get tired, you will get distracted.  What you want is to be able to quickly reground yourself; “ok, not focused, go back, what is my next step on this question?”

It took me a long time—because I didn’t have this me to help the old me—to develop a clear, simple process for each question type and then to be able to execute under time pressure.  But it worked—I got a 180 the only time I took the test, and have worked consistently to make the processes even cleaner since then.  It’s one of the reasons why Advise-In’s results are outstanding.  In the last 3 test cycles, clients have improved by over 13 points and over 40 percentiles, on average.  And those who consistently followed my program did even better.  That speaks for itself.

It’s a lot of work; more important, it’s the right kind of work, not simply endless practice without honing the methods that are effective for specific clients.  But if you want your best law school opportunities—both for admissions and financial aid—it’s worth it.

Best LSAT Prep: It’s Mental Athletics, Prepare That Way (part 1)

•February 20, 2018 • 1 Comment

Like a lot of law students and lawyers, I watch sports more than play them.  I do watch, but I’m more impressed by the training and dedication of elite athletes than I am even the games.  All that stuff that looks like confidence and assurance on the field—well, it is, but only because great athletes have put in the time in the training room and practice field.  I approached and coach my clients to approach the LSAT as a sport.  It has rules established by the LSAC and the test plays by them.  My results are excellent; on the other side, I am more and more convinced that the failure to appreciate the LSAT as a sport damages LSAT performance.

To succeed on the LSAT, you have to do two things successfully.  First, understanding.  You have to understand the rules and play by them.  Second, you have to be able to perform what you know to do.  The vast majority of LSAT prep programs spend time only on the first.

I am shocked that most prep programs only give clients and students four or five tests, and don’t really do much more with them than online automated analysis.  And don’t manage practice in between tests.  LSAT prep mostly ignores the second task.  But, it doesn’t matter what you know if you don’t do it consistently and efficiently.  You can practice tests and exercises all you like but in the end you have to play.  Like many athletes, many LSAT takers simply do not perform at game time.

It is astonishing to me, when looking over some prospective clients’ tests, and early in my own programs, how many points people give up not because they don’t know what to do but because…they don’t know how to do it.  Test-taking matters.  The difference between my 180 and 10 fewer points or so was simply because I prepared—from day 1—to actually take the test.

I’ll talk about a lot of that in subsequent posts.  Here, I want to focus on even more basic things that LSAT takers need to do correctly, and often do not.

  1. Define your opponent. This seems basic but it isn’t.  Your opponent is the LSAT.  Period.  It isn’t other test takers, others you talk with, the people giving you arrogant nonsense about how prepared they are before the test, you classmates or anyone else.  You’re not competing with them—you’re competing with the LSAT.  So, tune out how well everyone else says they’re doing (a lot of what people say they’re doing isn’t true anyway, but even if it were, it doesn’t matter to you).  Your job is simple.  Do YOUR best.  Not Jeannie’s best, or Sam’s, or Sahel’s, but yours.  Their score doesn’t affect yours.  Doing better than your neighbor may matter in a lot of things but it doesn’t matter here—they don’t determine the questions, and no answer they give or don’t give should have any effect on what you do; if it does, you’ve got the wrong opponent, and you will not succeed to your potential because you’ll be focused on the wrong thing.
  2. Know the rules. Saying that assumes that there are rules.  There are.  This is perhaps the most important error that LSAT takers make.  It takes a surprisingly long time to talk them out of it, and alas, some—no matter what you say—continue to think that the LSAT is one big piece of trickery.  So, people spend a lot of time (overall and even on individual questions) thinking, “This answer is obvious, so it must not be right” and other such things, all of which assume that the LSAT Is trying to trick you. It isn’t.  I won’t go into the statistical reasons why they can’t—they have to play by rules or they wouldn’t have a statistically reliable test—but the LSAT, even more than other so-called standardized tests, has a limited universe of question types that they approach the very same way every single time.  They aren’t trying to trick you—but they also don’t mind if your trick yourself.  And many people do, they “Princess Bride” themselves into the poison—it’s kind of “the LSAT thinks that I think that they’ll think that I think…”  And you get the wrong answer because that is a game you cannot win.   But it isn’t the game the LSAT is playing.
  3. Know the defense. That’s implied above.  The LSAT has published about 80 versions of its playbook, and there are very few differences between any of them—a few new question types here and there, small shifts in the meanings of words over the years, that kind of thing.  But this is an open system.  You don’t have to worry about what exotic defensive packages the LSAT will come up with on your test.  Every…single…defense is available to you.  The words are different but there are only 20 question types they have ever used.  And if you really understand them, and how to beat the defense by the rules, you will have largely succeeded in understanding the test.

Easier said than done, of course.  Under the best of circumstances, the LSAT Is a hard test—but as I’ve said on this blog before, that’s because they play the game very, very well, subtly at times.  Your job is to play their game as well as they do and as well as you can.  It isn’t to change the game mentally into something it isn’t.  It isn’t to think about tricks because there aren’t any.  It isn’t to think about how your friends (or enemies) are doing because they aren’t the people you’re competing with—you’re competing with the LSAT, in a game with fair rules.  Hard, yes, but easier if you’re focused on the correct things rather than the rabbit holes of trickery and mistaking who you’re competing against.

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