A look at the notorious test and its effects across schools in North America

A new era has dawned for prospective law students. Two weeks ago Harvard Law School, one of the world’s most prestigious post-secondary institutions, announced it is willing to accept Graduate Record Examination (GRE) exams in place of a Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score for applications.

This is a momentous change for students expecting to write the LSAT—a long, gruelling multiple choice test designed to engage logic and reasoning skills. It is also bell curved based on the results of every other student worldwide.

The system is now being replaced at Harvard by the GRE, which is designed for most American master’s programs. The only downside to this option is the math section, which isn’t a skill set cultivated by law students.

The reasoning behind this change? To ease the financial burden of taking two expensive tests, allowing for increased applications from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.

This comes following a study by Harvard Law School showing that the GRE and the LSAT were equal indicators of success in a law program. This study convinced Harvard to make the jump as the second American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school to accept the GRE in lieu of the LSATjust behind the University of Arizona.

At the University of Arizona, the main reason for the change was not socio-economic reasons, but rather a case of dropping enrolment. A December 2014 ABA report revealed that law school applications to American universities dropped by 28 per cent in the last four years, the lowest in four decades. This was attributed to a tighter job market and rising tuition costs. For many American students, a law degree amounts to an additional $250,000 in debt with no job prospects at the finish line.

Now, the real question: why has Canada not jumped on this bandwagon to help its prospective law students? Canadian universities might not cost quite as much as American post-secondary institutions, but Canadian law schools can still carry a significant price tag.

However, they have no current plans to change their LSAT models. Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto stated on March 16 that, “If you’re looking at the leading trend in admissions in Canada, it’s not going to be a reaction to the Harvard move.”

Put simply, less Americans may be applying to American law schools, but there are more than enough Canadians applying to Canadian law schools.

What can be done to help relieve the stress of applying to law school? Dropping the LSAT might be appealing, considering the time it takes to prepare, but Canadian law schools already take a holistic approach to applicants.

LSATs and grades are still important in judging applicants, but Canadian law schools also consider employment, volunteering, life experience, background, and recommendations. These elements already carry weight at most Canadian law schools, and over time may eclipse the LSAT.

Canadian law programs will only follow Harvard’s lead if they have their own economic reason to drop the LSAT test, like declining enrolment. But hopefully it doesn’t have to come to that.