Upfront

University of California, Berkeley, psychology professor Sheldon Zedeck, PhD, and retired Berkeley law professor Marjorie M. Shultz have designed a test that may predict legal savvy and success better than the LSAT.

Zedeck says the test improves on the LSAT, which is often criticized for only predicting law school success and keeping African-Americans, who tend to score low, out of law school.

To create the test, Zedeck and Shultz polled judges, law professors, legal clients and Berkeley Law School grads on what makes a good lawyer. They came up with 26 "effectiveness factors," such as an applicant's ability to problem-solve, write, listen, mentor, negotiate and advocate for one's client. They used "situational judgment test" methodology to craft hypothetical situations as predictors of how test-takers fare on the 26 traits.

Zedeck and Shultz then gave the exam to 1,100 alumni of Berkeley and Hastings law schools, who also provided their LSAT scores, law school grades and references who could speak to their effectiveness as lawyers.

In line with past studies, LSAT scores predicted who fared well in law school. But the Zedeck and Shultz test indicated which lawyers were the most effective.

"We were able to predict all 26 of our effectiveness factors," says Zedeck. "The LSAT couldn't do that."

Shultz first explored the notion of an LSAT alternative when California law schools began to notice a drop in admissions for African-American law students after Proposition 209 passed in the state in 1996. She and Zedeck designed and tested their study with a grant from the Law School Admissions Council, and are seeking more funding to extend their research on the test's effectiveness.

Several law school deans have expressed interest in their findings and openness to an LSAT-alternative that could enhance admissions, says Zedeck.

"They want more information and more flexibility in what they do," he says.

—J. Chamberlin