Yes. No. Maybe? It really depends on the schools where you plan on applying, and your choice of where to apply depends on your reasons for going to law school.
When is the Answer Yes?
If your goal is to attend an ABA-approved law school, you must take the LSAT.
The ABA (American Bar Association) requires law schools to include the LSAT in their admission decisions in order to qualify for ABA-approval, which is basically law school’s version of accreditation. Most states will not permit you to sit for the bar if you didn’t attend an ABA-approved law school. Only Alabama, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and West Virginia currently allow law students from non-ABA-approved law schools to take the bar.
Way back in 2015, there was technically a very narrow exception that popped up for the first time, allowing current undergraduate students to apply to the law school connected to their university without taking the LSAT. However, this policy ended as suddenly as it began, and only one class of students ever had the benefit of taking advantage of it. You can read more about it in this article from US News and World Report, but remember, it’s a thing of the past now.
Why Attend an ABA-Approved Law School?
There are two basic reasons:
- you intend to take the bar in any state other than the 6 listed above, or
- you plan to apply for a job at a law firm.
I covered the first reason in the previous section, but let’s talk about that second point. Almost all big firms and most small firms either require that their associates have degrees from ABA-approved law schools or heavily favor candidates with such degrees. Therefore, if you graduate from a non-ABA-approved law school–even at the top of your class–you are going to have a much harder time finding work in the private sector.
When is the Answer No?
There are three scenarios that come to mind in which someone considering law school might not need to take the LSAT. All three of these are relatively uncommon scenarios, but maybe you’re an uncommon person, right?
First, if you want to study the law but you have no intention of practicing the law, you might consider non-ABA-approved law schools. For instance, it is relatively common for law students to continue on to careers in politics, legal academics, education, or business. None of these require that you be admitted to the bar, and so attending an ABA-approved law school is less important. That said, if you plan on a career in legal academics, you will quickly find yourself fighting an uphill battle if your degree isn’t from one of the top law schools in the country, all of which will absolutely be ABA-approved.
Second, you want to practice law but you plan to apply to non-ABA-approved schools in one of the six states where you can still take the bar with such a degree. Again, those states are Alabama, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and West Virginia. If one of those is your home state, or a state where you plan to practice law after school, you might be just fine skipping the LSAT and attending a non-ABA-approved school. That said, remember that landing a job with a degree from a non-ABA school is much more difficult, even if you’re admitted to the bar.
Third, you could skip law school altogether and take the bar as a law reader. Only four states (California, Vermont, Virginina, and Washington) permit this practice, and the requirements you must fulfill before taking the bar vary among the four states. Generally, it involves 3 or 4 years of apprenticeship in a law office, and may also require regular examinations, annual fees, and a minimum hourly commitment per week. There’s a great article in Slate that outlines this option in more detail. Suffice it to say, this is an extremely uncommon route taken by fewer than 100 people nationwide every year. Furthermore, bar passage rates are exceptionally low among this group, with fewer than 30% of law readers passing their respective state bar exams.
To Sum It Up…
If you’re planning on pursuing a traditional legal career after law school, you’re doing yourself a favor by taking the LSAT. Is the LSAT required by every single law school? No. But while there are loopholes that allow you to apply to some law schools without an LSAT score, they don’t suit the goals of most law school applicants. Taking the LSAT now will allow you to apply to ABA-approved law schools, sit for any state’s bar after graduation, and be a more competitive applicant in a cutthroat job market.
On the other hand, skipping the LSAT now will severely limit your options both in finding the right law school and in choosing where to practice after graduation.
Hope that helps explain a rather confusing topic for you. If you have any questions remaining, I’m all ears!
All the best 🙂