2006 Archive

LSAT Redux: Alumni Volunteers Needed Take Redesigned Admission Test

Remember the Law School Admission Test? Every attorney does: a long multiple-choice exam with an essay section designed to predict how well applicants will do as law students. The LSAT focuses mainly on logic, analysis and reading and does not even purport to foretell effectiveness in law practice or law-related jobs. A team of researchers led by Professor Marjorie Shultz '76 has created a new test designed to measure the many abilities necessary to be an effective lawyer. The project seeks to predict professional abilities in order to include those factors in law school admission decisions.

Shultz observes that "law schools are professional schools; the vast majority of their grads go to law or law-related jobs, it seems unjustified and unfair to give such heavy weight to predictions of academic performance in selecting among applicants. Other professional schools, like medicine and business don't—and even academic departments, whose Ph.D. programs mostly educate students for academic careers, emphasize cognitive test scores much less than law schools do."

Starting August 14, thousands of Boalt and Hastings law school alumni from the classes of 1973 to 2006 will receive email or mail invitations to take the new tests as part of the final phase of a six-year study led by Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck, UC Berkeley professor of psychology. The email sender line will show Professor Shultz and Dean Edley, the subject line includes "Beyond the LSAT."

Volunteers taking the two-hour online exam will respond to several types of tests and are eligible to receive MCLE credit for their efforts. Test results (which will be confidential, used for research purposes only) will show which of the new tests are valid predictors of lawyers' effectiveness in law practice or law-related jobs.

"We need large numbers of volunteers in order to have statistically persuasive results," Shultz emphasized. "It's the best opportunity we know of to improve both quality and diversity in law school student bodies. Now, it's crunch time: years of research depend for success on alumni contributions of time and effort. More than 2,000 alums responded to a survey in an earlier phase of the study; we hope we can count on that high level of help again."

This upcoming test brings to fruition a research process that began when, funded by the LSAC, Shultz and Zedeck first developed a list of 26 factors—including creativity and innovation, practical judgment, writing, integrity and negotiation skills—to measure effectiveness as a lawyer. In creating the list, Shultz and Zedeck conducted interviews and focus groups with members of the Boalt alumni community, including lawyers, judges, faculty and students, and also sought client input about what mattered to them in choosing a lawyer. The next stage involved creating and adapting tests which researchers hypothesize will predict the 26 factors. This final trial test completes the project by determining the validity of the new tests.

Shultz, an expert in race policy, and Zedeck, an authority in race-neutral testing for job performance, undertook this work out of concern for fairness and quality in the law school admission process and for diversity after the 1996 passage of California's Proposition 209 (which prohibited race-based admissions policies for public institutions). A goal of the new test is, through use of expertise from social science research and employment testing, to create an additional selection method for law schools. The new method could provide a merit-based, empirically valid and well justified way to increase diversity in law schools and the profession using non race-conscious methods.