By Laurie T. Baulig, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising
For pre-med students, it's organic chemistry. For pre-law students, it's a four-letter word: LSAT. The Law School Admission Test is the gatekeeper for the nation's 202 accredited law schools. And just this week, the American Bar Association - which serves as the official accreditation body for law schools in the U.S. - endorsed the LSAT's continued use in law school applications.
So what exactly does the LSAT test, and is it a fair measure of someone's aptitude for the study of law or potential for success in the legal profession?
In order to answer these questions, I attended a two-day LSAT prep course as the guest of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. It's been over 30 years since I took the LSAT, and I honestly didn't spend enough time preparing for it. Now that I advise F&M students who are considering law as a profession, I figured it was time to reacquaint myself with an exam that is the only common attribute for all law school applicants. (Plus, it was the weekend between the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, and who doesn't love Philly in January?)
As for the first question, what does the LSAT test, there are three sections on the exam: 1) reading comprehension; 2) logical reasoning; and 3) analytical reasoning or "logic games." As for the second question, my unqualified answer is yes: I believe all three sections of the exam measure relevant skills needed by both law students and practicing lawyers.
Reading comprehension measures the ability to read and comprehend dense text, which is the essence of what lawyers actually do. Because "the law" is not fixed in stone, lawyers must be adept at reasoning by analogy and using other tools of logic to advance their client's position or to destroy their opponent's. So clearly the first two sections of the LSAT passed my "relevance" test.
As for the third, the analytical reasoning, or logic games section, I was initially skeptical. These questions are basically puzzles involving matching or sequencing- think Sudoku - that are also designed to measure the ability to think logically. This section was added in 1982, after I had already started law school, so I never had to prepare for it. Is mastery of logic games essential to success in law school or the practice of law?
My answer to this question is no. But that's because I think it's the wrong question. The right question is whether preparing for the logic games section of the LSAT measures an essential characteristic of the best law students and the best lawyers. And the answer to that question is an unqualified "yes." That's because success in law school and the practice of law require hard work and intense preparation. It also requires learning something new and mastering it - often in a very short period of time. That's what the logic games section of the LSAT ultimately measures. That's why it is also an important component of the exam.
Bottom line: the LSAT is a difficult test that requires intense preparation but is a fair measure of someone's ability to succeed in law school and the practice of law. I agree with the ABA that it should continue to be required for law school admission. If you disagree, well, I hear there's a shortage of doctors. And there are spaces available in organic chemistry in the fall.