Does An LSAT Score Belong On A Resume?

In a discussion over at Empirical Legal Studies Blog, on the issue of Vault’s new list of the Top 25 Underrated Law Schools, Jeff Stake and Bill Henderson both bring up the question of whether students ought to put their LSAT scores on their resumes. This turns out to be an interesting and complicated question. Bill suggests that including this information may be dangerous because it:

raises some difficult signaling problems. If it higher than a recruiter might expect, one might wonder why candidate X is not higher in the class; if is lower than expected, it does the candidate no good. These dynamics work against this practice being commonplace.

I’m not sure that Bill has this quite right. Top grades may be a good proxy for attorney quality (though that is far from certain) and firms rely on this information routinely. But they also rely heavily on the identify of the law school to distinguish between students with similar law school records. Maybe that’s because they believe a Harvard education is better than a State U. education. Maybe it’s because law schools are curved, and they figure top grades at Harvard provide more information than top grades at State U. But I suspect they use a student’s law school as a proxy for undergraduate record (as captured by school and GPA) plus intellect (as captured by LSAT scores.) A resume typically includes an applicant’s undergraduate record anyway. Only the LSAT is missing.

The problem is, many students who could attend Top 15 law schools decline to do so. I suspect that the majority of all public law schools, and many reasonably flush private law schools, have a significant student segment sporting impressive LSAT’s. Yet I’m guessing that recruiters at many fancy firms assume that an Alabama or Drexel student could not have gained admission to a Duke or Cornell. And top firms – in NY, at least – give relatively few interviews to students outside of the Top 15 law schools. They demand very high grades and, even then, are quite picky. How do students who do well, and who want jobs typically reserved for graduates of top schools, fight their way into the mix? One way to do this might be to share a high LSAT score.

Unfortunately for student with high scores, including an impressive LSAT on a resume may be viewed as tacky or crass. Or as those etiquette-loving folks at Auto-Admit put it, it makes you look like a bit “toolish.” I don’t disagree that including LSAT’s may trigger social sanctions, but in many ways these sanctions are unfair. Students who apply from Harvard are strutting their LSAT’s every time they send out a resume. Why is it that students at other schools who also earn high LSAT’s can’t share that information – particularly when we know that, implicitly at least, employers rely on this data for hiring?

UPDATE: David Bernstein and Andrew Perlman offer additional comments on this same theme.

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21 Responses

  1. anny says:

    Not going to a great school isn’t just a “choice.” It’s usually a financial consideration.

    There is a certain category of people (like myself) who got good enough grades and LSATs to get into better schools (and were accepted into these schools), but not good enough to get scholarships to be able to afford to go to those schools. Smart, but not the very smartest. So instead I am going to my state university law school, which I can afford.

    I just wish more people would realize that those who go to great schools are not only smart, but lucky enough to be able to afford it. Kids from higher-income backgrounds do tend to do better at school, but that cannot fully explain why in our supposedly meritocratic society, the majority of slots at top schools go to rich kids, year after year. I doubt that rich kids end up making better lawyers.

  2. David Friedman says:

    Dan,

    When I recruited lawyers for a “non-lawyer job” (e.g., consulting), I found the LSAT score to be a helpful indicator of reasoning capability under pressure. (With undergrads, the math SAT score was my proxy.)

    I did not require candidates to submit scores but I always found the extra data to be helpful. With a perfect LSAT score, I might be less inclined to drill an applicant with a quantitative exercise than I would be to test for social skills.

    Just one view…

  3. Sarah says:

    It might make more sense and be less “toolish” to look for or provide percentile rankings — especially since SAT scores, and to some extent LSAT scores, aren’t especially comparable over the course of more than a few years. My 1380 SAT sounded really awesome till they made the raw scores I got that year equal to a 1430 a few years later, and then added a third section (making the scale between 600 and 2400 instead of 400 and 1600.) My aunt’s 1600 was very hot in 1975 — hot enough, at the time, to get into MENSA (she didn’t bother.) But 80th percentile math and 98th percentile verbal sounds fairly okay even when you run across someone who’s talking about the ACT (hopefully you’d notice that around the time they mention their “science” and “reading” score percentiles, but hey, interviewing is hard work,) or GRE. Just so long as you don’t ask me what percentile I got in LSAT Analytical Reasoning.

    Anyway, percentiles are no less absolute than “recentered” scores (I mean, I have the raw scores I got on all of my standardized tests, but how helpful is it to say to you that I got all but 8 questions right on the LSAT?) And with percentiles, you have the advantage of seeing what real information you can actually get from the test scores, without having to hunt down a conversion chart on your own time.

    Asking for percentiles, especially over the course of several different tests taken at different times, might also let you see where extensive coaching has intervened: I figure my best evidence against accusations that I used an expensive tutor for the LSAT, besides abject poverty, is the consistency between my SAT/ACT percentiles and my LSAT, which was taken 9 years later than the other two. I’m not sure why I feel the need to be able to prove I didn’t have anyone teaching me (in person, at least) how to take the test, but it’s oddly important to me, so hey, maybe it’s important to someone else, right?

    Having said all of that, let me share my real-world position: if you only want to hire Harvard, Yale, and “Princeton Law” types (cf. John Sexton,) chances are that an Ohio State undergrad, Ohio Northern JD type won’t fit in no matter how high her LSAT score might have been. Employer recruiting positions are an excellent proxy for cultural factors at a given firm, in my experience.

  4. Ismone says:

    anny,

    Most people who go to top law schools take the $120k or more in debt. A lot of students at those schools can’t afford it either.

    Ismone

  5. Jason says:

    The idea of “earned” LSAT scores amuses me. It ought to amuse all of you.

  6. Dan, Thanks for your interesting post. I still stand by my statement that signaling problems “work against [inclusion of the LSAT on a resume] being commonplace.”

    It all comes down to numbers:

    1) By definition, 75% to 80% of students at any school don’t have a LSAT score that provides potentially flattering NEW information.

    2) To do any good, a student would need high grades and a LSAT at least a couple of points higher than the 75th percentile. This sends the signal, “I could have gone to Harvard and done well, so don’t overlook me.” This is a small group.

    3) A third category is David Bernstein’s inclusion of this LSAT (see his post at Volokh) to signal he was no weakling at Yale, which does give conventional grades. … Now that is a small cohort!

    So there will continue to be exceptions, but the practice itself will not be commonplace.

    Regarding Dan’s comment that social sanctions for inclusion of LSAT are “unfair” because enrollment at Harvard signals scores loud and clear, that won’t get us very far. My research with Andy Morriss (81 Ind L J 169) shows tremendous price inelasticity for national law schools. In other words, students want that signal and are willing to pay for it! bh.

  7. hdhouse says:

    When my x-wife was readying for he LSATs I used grill her through the prep. The books were interesting so I signed up for the test “just to see”. I took the GRE and Millers and a host of others around that time too.

    My LSAT put me in the top 10% easily as did my GRE and Millers. If I put the later two on my resume either then or now, it would have looked idiotically vain. The only reason to put an LSAT on a document is to make sure your hired attorney knows that you have a higher probability of figuring out the issue than he/she does.

  8. lloyd cohen says:

    I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon this discussion. I was a John M. Olin fellow at Emory Law School from 1980 to 1983. At the time I had a Ph.D. in economics. That fellowship offered a free-ride plus 10K per year tax free. When I went on the law school teaching market I listed my LSAT (and if memory serves some of my other standardized scores). I was told by all and sundry that that not only was this terribly declasse, but that it was simply never done. My position was much like Dan Filler’s and David Bernstein’s. I needed to inform a market inclined only to hire from top 10 law schools that I had the requisie mental firepower. I am glad to see that more people now employ this device to provide valuable and easily digestible information.

    In response to William Henderson, the issue is not whether everyone, or most, or many people should list their LSATs on their resume. The question is whether it is legitimate and acceptable for anyone to do so. The prior rule that it was gauche was merely self-serving piffle. I hope it is now dead.

  9. Xerxes says:

    Hasn’t the resume “market” already issued a remedy for this problem? While it’s considered tacky to include an LSAT score on a resume, it is perfectly acceptable to list scholarship information. The scholarship amount acts as a proxy for the LSAT score. It tells the recruiter/interviewer that the student could have attended a “higher ranked” school, but decided to take the money. I suspect several firms would view this as a prudent decision and it demonstrates a high LSAT.

    Additionally, how would firms know whether the LSAT score on the resume is legitimate? Am I missing something? A transcript includes grades, and it is easy to verify scholarship information. But LSAT scores?

  10. lloyd cohen says:

    Xerxes,

    1. Scholarship information is a very imperfect substitute. First, because the standards for various scholarships are largely unknown to those reading the resumes. Second, many people attend lower ranked lawschools for reasons other than scholarships. For example many married women will attend the nearest lawschool for family reasons.

    2. There is much that appears on a resume that is not readily verifiable and does not appear on one’s law school transcript. For example, claims of past employment history (including tasks performed), undergraduate major and awards, etc. Among those things LSATs is among the most easily verified. For a small fee the law firm or applicant can have LSDAS send it to the firm. In addition one’s entire LSDAS file including undergraduate grades can all be sent in a single package.

    More generally, the argument in favor of including LSATs is not that it should be a substitute source of information, but an additional one. It takes a third of a line of typeface.

  11. Jeff Lipshaw says:

    How about a full page of test scores:

    Apgar Test

    Stanford-Binet IQ

    PSAT

    SAT

    LSAT

    Multi-State Bar Score

  12. Paul Horwitz says:

    I second Jeff’s suggestion — especially the Apgar. Also, and although I know Jeff has spoken up quite rightly in defense of law practice, one might include the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale: I am willing to endure *this* much misery!

  13. anonymous says:

    I tend to think there is a reason the LSAT is called the Law School Admission Test. While it is arguably a sufficient proxy for success in law school, its value as a proxy for for post law school employment success is minimal compared with law school grades and other real world legal experience.

  14. Chris says:

    As a lawyer who interviews law students for positions at my firm, I would think it very odd to see an LSAT score on the resume and I think including the score would hurt (either consciously or unconsciously) the applicant. Even if it were quite high from someone at a lower ranked law school, I would not assume they could have gotten into a higher ranked school but chose to go to the lower ranked school; I would assume there was some other reason they did not get into the higher ranked school.

  15. Anon says:

    I think all of these proxies are what they are: somewhat helpful but not at all conclusive as indicators. It would be fine if it became standard practice but then would we expect students to indicate how many times they took the LSAT and their score each time?

  16. WeisRules says:

    Another option: If you got into Harvard, but took a full ride to, say, Boston College–how about putting “Accepted to Harvard Law” on your resume, along with your BC scholarship info. Tacky? Perhaps. But in the end, it’s an advantage.

  17. BL says:

    Consider this:

    Way back when, I chose to attend a “2nd tier” school for the scholarship money despite having a LSAT of 167. When I applied for BigFirm jobs as a 2L, I only listed the score on 1 of the hundred or so resumes I sent out. While I received several interviews, I only received an offer at the place I sent the score. As a 3L, I put my LSAT on my resume when applying to Dist. Ct. clerkships, and I received one.

    Now I have a vibrant career, but I don’t doubt for a second that listing my LSAT helped get me here.

  18. anonymous, too says:

    Drexel law student here.

    1 – As “Anon” said, it’s the “Law School Admission Test.” An employer who relies on a candidate’s LSAT score, even as one factor among many, does so at his peril.

    2 – One of my 1L classmates knocked the LSAT and the GRE out of the ballpark, and she won’t be returning next fall because she can’t, as a matter of fact, hack law school itself. Like the SAT and all of its standardized ilk, the LSAT tests how well its takers do on the LSAT and is of limited applicability to one’s performance both in law school and in the real world. My classmate is a star on standardized tests, but she’s failing out of law school.

    3 – I was “affirmative actioned” into law school as a nontraditional student with a middling LSAT score and an undergrad GPA that was more B+ than A-. I have no illusions that if I were right out of undergrad I would not have been accepted with these paper qualifications. Right now I’m in the top 30% of the class. The LSAT can bite me.

    4 – I’m over 30, have owned a business, and have worked jobs where I’ve made hiring decisions. If I saw someone’s LSAT, GRE, SAT, or other standardized test score on a resume, I’d fall out of my chair laughing. Then, when I’d gotten back up and composed myself, I’d discard that resume out of concern that the candidate would be a good test-taker but a lousy real-world problem-solver. Not to mention that the office would probably never hear the end of how high the candidate’s LSAT, GRE, or SAT score was.

  19. hdhouse says:

    I revised this thread just to see what has transpired. I note nothing of value.

    Why don’t yo print the LSAT score on the back of you business cards along with the amount of hours it takes you to research a simple question and the number it takes to research a hard question. Clients pay you on the basis of what you know rather than what you can find out.

    If you shallow legal eagles know who Richard Fyneman was, he wrote a series of very clever books. In one he described taking a doctoral level biology class and being bewildered by all these students memorizing the number of bones and locations in variouos mammals. He refused. His answer was that if he wanted to know, he could look it up in a book so why waste the time memorizing something that others had laid out for you so elegantly in literally hundreds of books.

    see?

  20. John Steed says:

    The better proxy would be class rank I think.

    I’ve yet to talk to a practicing attorney, firm CEO or Judge in the Philly area who disagrees with the following: If you’re in the top 5-10 in you class at almost any school (including Drexel) you can get interviews nearly anywhere in the country and you’ll be able to find a good job after school.

    Ditto for the ability to transfer up as an L2 at a better school.

    If you do very well in a T2 school people will recognize your ability and realize that you could have done well elsewhere.

    I’m likely going to Drexel on a full ride. I have to live in Philly, but my numbers and resume would likely get me into a T14 school. I might get into Penn, but even if I do I may still go to Drexel.

  21. Jeff says:

    \”My LSAT put me in the top 10% easily as did my GRE and Millers. If I put the later two on my resume either then or now, it would have looked idiotically vain. The only reason to put an LSAT on a document is to make sure your hired attorney knows that you have a higher probability of figuring out the issue than he/she does.”

    It’s great that you do well on standardized tests. But that you think that a high LSAT score means you have a “higher probability” of figuring out anything before your attorney means, maybe, those skills don’t translate into real-life reasoning.