Portia Denied: Unmasking Gender Bias on the LSAT and Its Relationship to Racial Diversity in Legal Education
Law Review Article
admission criteria, incoming indicators, law school diversity, standardized test scores, LSAT
Currently, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the foremost gatekeeper to obtaining a legal education at schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). In this Article I analyze the causes, consequences and fairness of gender and racial/ethnic differences on the LSAT. In Part I, I review the history of women's representation in legal education, and note the present gender gap in LSAT performance. In Parts II and III, I attempt to remedy a deficit in the current literature by documenting how the LSAT decreases women's and (particularly) minorities' admission opportunities in the 1990's, even compared to men and Whites who had similar accomplishment levels over four years of college. As a way of studying the impact of current definitions of merit, I compare present admission practices with two admission models based on undergraduate grade-point averages. Either alternative admission model results in the admission of about two thousand more women to ABA schools, and would create overall gender parity in legal education.
In Part IV, I summarize the statistical methods for evaluating the significance of score differences on the LSAT between two test takers, and I review professional standards for appropriate test use. I then contrast the lack of statistical significance--between two test takers--of the modest LSAT gender gap with the practical consequence of LSAT misuses in admissions, financial aid allocation, employment decisions and school funding. Finally, in Part V, I review the educational literature regarding the sources of potential LSAT test bias. I argue that the strong possibility of bias in forms such as stereotype threat, speededness, subject matter selection and item bias, undermine claims by test producers that the LSAT is fair--or even meaningfully "standardized"--in its treatment of women and racial/ethnic minorities.