Nationwide settlement aims to make LSAT more accessible

Photo of a stopwatch, a pencil and clipboard with checked boxes.
LSAC enters nationwide settlement

The Law School Admissions Council will ease its criteria for granting testing accommodations and end its practice of “flagging” applicants with disabilities, under a consent decree filed with the Department of Justice in federal court May 20.

As part of the agreement, the LSAC must pay out $7.73 million in compensation and damages to potentially more than 6,000 people with disabilities who applied for testing accommodations between Jan. 1, 2009 and May 20, 2014.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California must still approve the settlement.

“If entered by the court, this decree will impact tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities, opening doors to higher education that have been unjustly closed to them for far too long,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release.

LSAC administrates the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, the standard test required for admission into all American Bar Association-approved law schools.

Disability advocates have long accused the LSAC of using overly stringent criteria and requesting excessive documentation when reviewing accommodation requests, such as large print or Braille, longer study breaks, or, most commonly, additional time to take the test.

When requests are granted, the LSAC has a practice, known as “flagging,” of notifying the student’s prospective law schools that they took the test “under nonstandard time conditions;” that “LSAC research indicates that scores earned under nonstandard time conditions do not have the same meaning as scores earned under standard time conditions;” and the “applicant’s score should be interpreted with great sensitivity and flexibility.”

As disability advocates see it, this practice unfairly stigmatizes these students in the law school application process.

With the exception of the Medical College Admission Test, the SAT and all other major standardized tests have ended the practice of flagging.

In March 2012, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Employment and 22 prospective students filed a class-action lawsuit against the LSAC, accusing it of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs that November.

The California legislature also passed a bill in September 2012 prohibiting “flagging” in-state. This California Third District Court of Appeal upheld the legislation in January 2014.

In a statement, the LSAC said that it decided to resolve the lawsuit because it did not think that “continued litigation is in the best interests of our member schools or prospective law school students,” noting that the DOJ has known of its “flagging” practice since 1986, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The agreement did not require that LSAC admit it was guilty of any wrongdoing.