Dean Marc Miller Discusses LSAT for JD Admissions, Racial Justice, Legal Innovation and More in Arizona Attorney Q&A

Sept. 8, 2022
Marc Miller standing University of Arizona Law courtyard

Arizona Attorney Magazine
Updates from Arizona's Law Schools 
September 2022

University of Arizona Law Dean and Ralph W. Bilby Professor of Law Marc Miller discusses the LSAT in JD admissions, racial justice, legal innovation and more in a Q&A with Arizona Attorney Magazine

From Arizona Attorney Magazine:

What are a few significant new developments you’d like to share about your law school? What should lawyers be happy to know is happening there?

We continue to admit a strong, deep, diverse class in our traditional JD program. Starting from a solid base, our applications have been increasing in recent years, including for this fall when University of Arizona Law was among only a handful of law schools who saw an application increase after a nationwide decline of more than 10 percent during the recruitment cycle. As with the fall 2021 class, a majority of our incoming JD students identify as female, and a majority are from outside of Arizona, with a about 10 percent from outside the United States.

The strong nationwide (indeed, global) demand for the University of Arizona JD brings great students to Tucson. Their abilities and hard work, the educational focus of faculty and staff, and the commitment and support of the bar and employers, alumni and non-alumni alike, have produced great outcomes for our JD graduates. On the JD employment front, we saw another record-breaking year of employment outcomes for our class of 2021. Our overall employment rate at 10 months after graduation (the standard measured by the ABA) saw an increase from the previous year. Furthermore, our employment rate for full-time, long-term, JD-required or JD-advantage jobs was the highest in college history. We are still collecting and finalizing data for the Class of 2022, but our at-graduation employment rate was up by nearly two percentage points compared to last year, a sign of great things to come.

Our many alumni and friends in Maricopa County know about our growing presence, illustrated by the work of Professor Ellen Bublick and the Phoenix Externship Program, or PEP. Professor Bublick has built on deep relationships with members of the bench and bar, and our many Arizona Law alumni in Phoenix (literally many thousands), to offer externships and intensive courses and advising experiences to Arizona Law students who want to spend the spring term in Phoenix.

Leah Won (JD ’05) serves as assistant dean for Phoenix Initiatives, leading and representing our college in multiple programs and settings. We have always been the University of all of Arizona, and committed to Maricopa County. Our current efforts expand on and illuminate that fact.

Several wonderful new faculty are joining Arizona Law this fall. Two new members of our permanent faculty are Professor Stephanie Stern, who joins us from Chicago-Kent College of Law Illinois Institute of Technology, and Professor Jordan Woods, who joins us from the University of Arkansas. Professor Stern is an expert in environmental, water and property law, including land use. Professor Woods is an expert in criminal law, policing and LGBTQ+ law.

A special visitor this year is Dean Mohammad Hamed Isar, who joins us as a Research Scholar for the 2022-2023 year from the faculty of Law and Political Science at Jawzjan University in Sheberghan, Afghanistan. His teaching, practice and research interests focus on criminal law, property law, election law and human rights.

As Arizona lawyers who have followed University of Arizona Law know, we have for some years been building fascinating legal education programs for undergraduates, and for graduates who do not wish to pursue the JD. These are big and vibrant programs, with around 1,600 current BA in Law students, and over 300 masters students, with the significant majority of the BA in Law students studying in-person, and the vast majority of masters students studying fully online.

In 2020, Arizona Law expanded our Master of Legal Studies program to include a legal paraprofessional concentration, designed to provide the necessary coursework to qualify for licensure, and placing the college at the forefront of innovations in justice and legal practice. Working closely with the Arizona Supreme Court, in 2021 we developed an additional educational pathway to qualify for licensure through our first in- the-nation BA in Law program. Students completing the BA program have the opportunity to choose LP-track required courses related to their chosen practice area.

Thanks to our groundbreaking advanced JD admissions pathway for non-U.S. lawyers, we have one of the most globally diverse student bodies in the nation. But our global reach expands far beyond our borders. In 2021, more than 500 students were enrolled in our BA in Law program at University of Arizona microcampuses in Qingdao, China, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Hanoi, Vietnam. These students earn a University of Arizona BA in Law and a law degree from their home institution and have the option to spend part of their time studying in person at our Tucson campus.

The number of law school applications has fluctuated dramatically in the past few years. How does that affect your planning and ability to create a culture for your entering cohort that is consistent across years? Does the predicted decline of new applicants nationwide concern you?

We continue to explore ways to broaden access to legal education. That is one of the reasons we began accepting the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT in 2016—an innovation followed first by Harvard, then by well over 70 schools, and since last fall approved by the American Bar Association Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar for use by all accredited U.S. law schools.

We have been working for five years to develop an even more dramatic admission test, called JD-Next. That test is applied after we first offer a seven-week course built around a part of our BA in Law contracts materials, so what we are testing is not just akin to what a student does in law school, but we are testing their ability to do legal reasoning. We have been joined by approximately 30 law schools nationwide in developing this test, which, in the meantime, serves as a bridge experience for all students who take it. In addition to predicting law —continued from page 30 school performance—like the LSAC and GRE—our data show notable increases in first year performance, not only in contracts, but overall.

Currently the ABA Council for the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is considering the elimination of Standard 503, which we believe will better achieve the goals of excellence and diversity in legal education and in the profession. Standard 503 is the only regulatory mandate in the country that puts a school’s accreditation at risk if it admits a student without a preapproved test. A mandated test is not required by the regulator for business or medical schools, or by the regulator for any other graduate or professional field.

If Standard 503 is eliminated, most law schools—including University of Arizona Law—will continue to make heavy use of standardized tests. But current standardized tests have been recognized, including by the institutions that design and administer them, to have inherent race and class bias. If Standard 503 is eliminated, law schools will be free to innovate and open new pathways to admission. For example, schools might rely on far more detailed local data, such as the large number of applicants from “home” institutions or based on conditional performance in intensive or other degree programs. The Council recommendation will be made at the November meeting, and a final approval by the ABA House of delegates would take place in the spring of 2023.

There continues to be national debate over whether the LSAT should be required. Do you think that debate masks deeper disagreements about readiness, diversity and the profession’s openness to change?

With respect, the question is not about whether the LSAT should be required. Already as noted, the relevant ABA Council has approved the use of the GRE for JD admissions— thanks to the innovation led here at University of Arizona Law.

Also as discussed, we are working to push on the very questions of access and diversity that your question implies, in our efforts with JD-Next. It is not only fair but wise to give students information about whether they are likely to succeed in a course of study and a professional pathway. It is also wise for schools to build their classes based on solid information, data and expert judgment. That judgment needs to be about more than just first-year grades— which is the measure that has been used to assess the validity and reliability of the LSAT and GRE. Which employer, for a practicing lawyer five or ten years out of law school, has ever asked a potential employee or colleague “what were your first-year grades?” Standardized tests are not neutral arbiters of ability, and they are not just boats tossed on a sea of external societal factors. Tests matter; better tests can measure more relevant outcomes and a wider range of skills critical to modern practice. Better tests can lessen or eliminate the race and class bias acknowledged in current tests such as the LSAT.

Read the full Q&A in Arizona Attorney Magazine