Harvard Law’s recent relaxation of the LSAT requirements by allowing applicants to take the GRE has spurred a debate in the Canadian context about whether it is prudent to maintain the strict LSAT requirements for law school admissions. So far, the deans of two law schools – Dean Sossin of Osgoode Hall and Dean Holloway of Calgary Law – have taken a public stand in support of the LSAT. The arguments cited are not new. The LSAT, it is argued, is a useful comparative tool that allows admission committees to compare the logical reasoning of their applicants. It is also a tool, Dean Holloway argues, that allows for more access to law schools for applicants who are marginalized because it is a standardized test. The cost of taking the LSAT, it is argued, is cheaper than the GRE and, at least in this sense, is more accessible. Dean Sossin also highlights that Osgoode has a program to provide guidance and support for individuals who wish to take the LSAT, but are otherwise unable to afford paying for private courses.
In this piece, I want to question the argument that the LSAT is accessible from the perspective of an individual with a visual impairment. I am a visually impaired second year student at Osgoode Hall Law School. My application journey was not an easy one – not that it is for anyone without any form of disability. But, the experiences that the LSAT has put me, and others like me, through are unique and it is unfortunate that Canadian law schools are still relying on a test that creates barriers to some applicants. The LSAT, to be sure, is inaccessible in two ways – content and procedure.
From a content inaccessibility perspective, the logical reasoning component of the LSAT creates a daunting barrier for individuals with visual impairments. For most test takers, it is necessary, or at least helpful, to rely on diagrams in order to succeed in this section. It goes without saying, however, that the reliance on visual aids to deconstruct and solve the logical reasoning questions places test takers who are visually impaired at a great disadvantage. The logical reasoning section is peculiar in this regard. For example, there are other sections on the LSAT, like the writing sample requirement or the reading comprehension requirement, that do not require heavy reliance on the use of diagrams. The point here is that the true nature of the comparative process on the basis of logical reasoning must be questioned.
Such an impact on the comparative process is more acute to individuals who have a visual impairment because there are no materials or courses that I know of that are designed specifically for individuals with disabilities in general or individuals with visual impairments more specifically. Indeed, the published study materials that I consulted in the preparation for the LSAT relied on diagrams and often encouraged their use. Therefore, even though, as Dean Sossin correctly highlights, there are programs available for applicants who wish to take the LSAT, but cannot afford to do so, there is a complete absence of programs for those with a disability regardless of whether they can afford it or not. At least some components of the LSAT, in other words, are designed in a way that does not take into consideration that there are applicants with disabilities who will be taking the test and their results might be affected in a way that does not affect other applicants.
Now, it is argued that the probative value of the LSAT vis-à-vis the logical reasoning capacity of applicants is one of its hallmarks. With all due respect, this argument is not in accordance with how the law and the education of law operate in general. Arguably, what law schools should be concerned about is not merely logical reasoning skills, but analytical skills. We are not dealing here with a problem of semantics or distinctions without a difference. The logical reasoning value of the LSAT is extremely limited in scope – its focus is on the ability to undertake a logical reasoning analysis in a very formulaic way. Most of the logical reasoning questions are based on formats of “if a, then b” or “a + b = c”. These types of questions have little probative value in the study of law. From my experience thus far, the pedagogy of law is not concerned with applying rules to given facts in a formulaic way. Law is not taught and practiced like a course in calculus. It is rather based on argument, analysis and reasoning that takes into consideration, inter alia, contextual, historical, sociological, and normative factors into consideration in the analysis. The argument here is not that logical reasoning is irrelevant to law school admissions. Obviously, it is. Rather, the argument is that law schools should not be concerned with formulaic measures of logical reasoning. They should be looking for analytical skills and the ability to provide reasoning that is coherent, persuasive, and cogent. Law, for the most part, is a profession of argument, not formulas.
Not only is the LSAT inaccessible in its content, it is also inaccessible in its procedure. When I wrote my LSAT, I was required to bring my own computer and printer to the examination. As far as I know, this requirement can still affect accommodated applicants. Here it must be asked: how is it possible for a person who is visually impaired and cannot drive to transport a computer set and a printer via public transportation? Why is it assumed that all disabled individuals have the privilege of owning personal computers with the required software for their accommodation? Of course, I contacted the center where I was supposed to write the test (a university in Ontario), but no solution could be reached. This was more surprising to me as I had written many other exams at this center (I completed my undergraduate studies at the university) and knew, therefore, that it had the computers and software that I needed to write the test. While I am fortunate to have a strong support system that allowed me to have access to the required technology and logistics to write the LSAT, it would be imprudent and, indeed, unrealistic to assume that all individuals with disabilities will have the privilege of a support system that would assist them in overcoming these types of barriers and inaccessibility.
It is also argued that the LSAT is financially accessible, or at least more financially accessible than the GRE. I am not familiar with the GRE costs and procedures and so I will not comment on them. However, it is crucial to realize that the costs involved with the LSAT discriminate against applicants with disabilities. As any individual with a disability knows, the provision of accommodations for writing the LSAT requires the completion of forms by medical practitioners unless the applicant falls within predetermined narrow exceptions (approved accommodations for another standardized test, for example). It should be no surprise that the vast majority of doctors will charge to complete the forms and these charges are not covered by health insurance. Yet, individuals who do not have a disability do not have to incur these costs. Understood this way, the LSAT has hidden costs that are very real for applicants with disabilities.
To me, accessibility is not just about which test is cheaper or whether the majority of people who wish to take the test can afford it, but is about inclusiveness and whether everyone who wishes to take an admissions test will be treated in a manner that leads to an equality of outcome. Again, the argument here is not that all individuals with disabilities will not be able to afford paying the extra expenses associated with obtaining medical verification – inevitably some will and others will not. Rather, the argument is that at least some people with disabilities will be excluded on this basis and that the inequality of outcome that applicants with disabilities face vis-à-vis the potential extra costs is discriminatory in and of itself.
The most shocking requirement to me when I wrote the LSAT was an e-mail that I received shortly before my test date to the effect that I had to call the test supervisor a number of days in advance to confirm my attendance. This requirement did not make sense. I tried to fathom why I was required to do so, but I could not come up with a reasonable and convincing answer. Test-takers who write with no accommodations are not required to call. Why is it assumed that test-takers with disabilities are going to miss their test? What would the reaction be if this requirement was imposed on the basis of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or age? Why do Canadian law schools accept such a discriminatory requirement as part of their application process?
I am not the only person with a disability to complain against the LSAT. Many have done so before me. The most recent outcry was in the U.S. and resulted in a class action settlement with the Law School Admissions Council (who are responsible for administering the LSAT). I was part of this settlement and received a cheque for a nominal compensation. Even though there was a settlement in this case, the agreed upon changes do not affect the content of the LSAT nor do they affect the procedures that individuals with visual impairments have to follow in a substantial way.
Given my critique of the LSAT, I think there are two choices that Canadian law schools have. The first is to attempt to place pressure on the Law School Admission Council to rectify all discriminatory practices against applicants with disabilities. I think this where the argument that the LSAT is an American and not a Canadian test comes into play. Arguably, it is more difficult for Canadian applicants and institutions to exert transformative pressure on a foreign institution. Indeed, an example of this is the boycott that law schools from Quebec have had by not requiring the LSAT because it is not available in French. As far as I know, there is still no French version of the LSAT available. True, universities like McGill still require the reporting of an LSAT score if the test was taken, but the LSAT is not an admissions requirement. It seems, therefore, that any attempts to rectify any potential issues in order to reach Canadian standards are not likely to succeed. For this reason, I think that the second choice is the only real choice that law schools in Canada have if they wish to create a truly inclusive admissions policy. This second choice necessitates that Canadian law schools move beyond the LSAT.
To be sure, I am not advocating for eliminating all entrance tests. I am rather calling for the establishment of a pan-Canadian law school admissions test that is accessible, reliable, and has validity. Canada would not be the first country to adopt this path. Many law schools in the United Kingdom, including Oxford, have devised their own law entrance test known as the Law National Aptitude Test. Maybe it is time for Canada to adopt a similar approach.
If Canadian law schools truly seek to diversify their student body, it is imperative to look deeper and beyond the usual arguments about the comparative aspects of the LSAT and its focus on logical reasoning. The LSAT, as it stands, is not an accessible test and this inaccessibility plays a discouraging factor for potential applicants with visual impairments. Hopefully, Canadian law schools will gather the required imitative to collaborate with each other and find room for innovation in the admissions process to create a truly accessible and diverse legal education system while maintaining the analytical rigor that is required to go through law school.