Canadian law schools likely to keep LSAT requirement despite Harvard move to drop it

While Harvard Law School recently announced it would be allowing students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in lieu of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in order to broaden its range of candidates during the application process, it’s likely that Canadian law schools won’t follow this trend in the near future.

Osgoode Hall Law School dean Lorne Sossin says the LSAT remains an important way for law schools to compare applicants.
Osgoode Hall Law School dean Lorne Sossin says the LSAT remains an important way for law schools to compare applicants.

Harvard’s initiative, which will allow students to take an alternative standardized test, is currently in a pilot stage. The law school says the goal of the pilot is to make law school applications more accessible by allowing applicants to pay for only one test instead of two when applying to both graduate and law school.

“If you’re looking at the leading trend in admissions in Canada, it’s not going to be a reaction to the Harvard move,” says Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. “I think here we’re moving away from a more formulaic approach, keeping the LSAT in mind, and toward a more holistic assessment. [The LSAT] is an important component because it gives that comparative dimension.”

Sossin adds that, in Canada, most of the costs incurred by applicants are from optional LSAT preparatory courses rather than paying to take the test itself. To help ease this gap, Osgoode Hall provides the Access to Law and Learning program — a free course to help high-potential candidates with financial need prep for the LSAT.

All Canadian law schools except those in Quebec require applicants to write the LSAT. Quebec law schools don’t require it because it is only offered in English. However, according to Robert Leckey, dean of McGill University Faculty of Law in Montreal, if a candidate does write the test, the results must be shared with the university, even if they perform poorly and even if it’s not required for admission.

Law school deans from across the country indicated to Legal Feeds that, although GPA and LSAT can level out the playing field between undergraduate programs with different marking standards and provide a stable measure of comparison among all applicants, it’s equally if not more important to evaluate applicants holistically. This means looking at their previous professional, volunteer and life experiences, leadership skills, background and personal statements. The drawback of this method is that it’s time consuming and requires additional staff.

“I think it’s fair to say that many [Canadian] schools have sought to expand the extent to which the whole background of the person is taken into account,” says Jeremy Webber, dean of University of Victoria Faculty of Law, adding that relying on numbers alone provides too narrow of an assessment. “Law school interacts with all segments of society, just about every issue in society, and so it’s really good to have people in law school who have a range of backgrounds.”

Although groups such as the Canadian Law Admissions Services and Statistical Information group and the Ontario Law Schools Admissions Services Working Group will be meeting in 2017 to discuss issues in law school admissions, Queen’s Law dean Jane Emrich says neither group has yet discussed changes to the LSAT requirement.

In a statement, Emrich also said that “most law schools would need to amend their admissions policies through their relevant faculty boards in order to make such a change,” such as using the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT.

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