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More Law Schools Drop the LSAT for Top Applicants

As enrollment drops, schools excuse their top-performing undergrads from the four-hour entrance exam

The piecemeal retreat from the Law School Admission Test is gaining momentum.

The University of Hawaii said this month it would drop the LSAT for some applicants, joining a growing number of law schools around the country trying to make it simpler for high-achieving students to enroll. The schools are taking advantage of new rules issued in August by the American Bar Association that let law schools fill 10 percent of their classes with people who have not taken the LSAT but have done very well in college and on other standardized tests, such as the SAT. 

The University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law said it would begin admitting people who went to the school as undergraduates without the LSAT, as long as they had a 3.5 grade point average and scored high on the SAT or ACT. People who graduated before 2014 are not eligible.

The State University of New York-Buffalo Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law were the first to take advantage of the new ABA rules in February, when they announced programs that allowed top-performing undergraduates from the schools to apply without taking the LSAT. The schools said at the time that the move would help ease the path to a juris doctor degree for their best and brightest. 

"The strategy behind the program is to identify good students, top-quality students, with a strong potential to succeed in law school," James Gardner, dean at the University of Buffalo Law School, said. He added that not asking applicants to sit for a four-hour exam might help schools tackle one of the stickiest problems they face at the moment: sinking applications and enrollments. 

St. John's University School of Law, in New York, and Drake University School of Law, in Iowa, also said this year that they would not require LSAT scores for the best applicants who went to their undergraduate colleges. The Law School Admission Council, which administers the test, has said it isn't worried about the impact of these programs, since they are so small. 

All five of the schools that have dropped the exam for some applicants have seen their enrollments plunge in recent years. At Iowa University, for example, about half as many students started at the law school in 2013 as started in 2010. First-year enrollment at all ABA-accredited law schools has dropped 28 percent since 2010. 

"For our high-achieving students, it's an opportunity that we can give them to provide an easier path to law school," Amy Beier, the admissions director at Iowa’s law school, said when the school announced its program.

The LSAT, she said, "is a good predictor of success in law school, but it's not perfect."

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