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“More than the Numbers”: Empirical Evidence of an Innovative Approach to Admissions

By Anahid Gharakhanian, Natalie Rodriguez, and Elizabeth A. Anderson. Full Text.

“I am proof that your LSAT score does not define you; law schools need to understand that every student’s lived experience is unique. Thanks to Southwestern’s admissions process I was able to show that I’m more than the numbers on my application.” This third-year law student was admitted to Southwestern Law School and went on to place in the top twenty percent after her first year following an admissions waitlist interview, based on Southwestern’s first-of-its-kind empirically based approach that utilizes factors beyond the typical numerical indicators—in particular, the Law School Admission Test—that drive admissions decisions and limit access to law school and the legal profession. This scalable toolkit is connected to preparation for practice, may improve diversity outcomes using a race-neutral approach, and is a low-cost supplement to other admissions tools.

This Article reports on Southwestern’s three-year empirical project, developing an evidence-based tool to more fully and meaningfully assess applicants’ law school potential. This tool goes beyond the limited cognitive measure of the LSAT, which at best is only predictive of first-year law school performance. This project is driven by the moral imperative that law schools—as gatekeepers to the legal profession—should commit to innovative and rigorous admissions processes that define merit broadly and provide opportunities based on a spectrum of factors, beyond the traditional numerical indicators. This research, based on hundreds of waitlist interviews, has produced initial reliability and validity metrics for the measure developed—i.e., a tool that could be used with confidence in the admissions process.