Friday, October 7, 2005

Who Gets In? Who Gets Out?

In back-to-back articles in the Summer 2005 edition of Boalt Hall's (U.C. Berkeley's Law School) "Transcript," articles (both linked here) by free-lance reporter Linley Erin Hall and Law Professor Marjorie M. Shultz address the concept of what makes "good lawyers" and how lawyers are chosen.

Shultz Ms. Hall's article, "What Makes for Good Lawyering," focuses on a six-year study Zedeck headed by Boalt Law Professor Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck, a UC Berkeley Professor of Psychology (both pictured here).  The researchers identified 26 factors that contribute to lawyering effectiveness, and are now attempting to develop tests to predict those factors.  Their hope is that the tests might be administered as part of an admissions process that will affect the characteristics and qualities of future members of the bench and bar.

"The new tests should not only improve the ability of law schools to identify the applicants most likely to become effective lawyers," Ms. Hall points out, "but also create more diversity in law school classes," particularly important in California after the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, prohibiting voluntary race-or-gender-sensitive descionmaking in admission to public institutuions.

The companion article, "Expanding the Definition of Merit," addresses the lack of congruity between function and means which may be undermining professional quality throughout the profession.  Professor Shultz writes: "Law schools aren't particularly responsive to that gatekeeper role.  Most make no organized effort to assess likely professional competence; their admission decisions are dominated by narrow criteria intended maninly to predict academic performance."

Because choosing law students is tantamount to choosing lawyers, the current admissions practices should, she argues, be revisited.  Instead of being interested (almost exclusively) in predicting who will succeed academically in school, rather, schools ought to be concerned about who has the actual or potential competencies and commitments that make for quality lawyering. 

LSAT emphasis is the current problem, as these researchers see it.  "Some evidence suggests that law schools de facto place even greater weight on LSAT scores than their official policies state."  The irony involved in the decision to use the LSAT as a critical factor in admission decisions is found in the fact that most law grads practice law or work in jobs that rely on their professional training ... contrasted with most graduate departments in universities, which train people primarily for academic rather than professional careers, yet appear to pay more "attention to assessing professional potential" in admissions candidates.

"Selecting prospective lawyers on the basis of a broader range of competencies should improve the quality of the profession."  (djt)

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