Matthew Fletcher has recently written, “The market for Indian lawyers has never been greater in the history of American law, and it is likely to keep growing for the foreseeable future.” While the general market for lawyers has been shrinking since even before the recession of 2008, American Indian students now have expanding opportunities in law that were unthinkable only a decade or two ago.
The LSAT is, for many Native prelaw students, the single most formidable impediment on the path to law school. It is a key to admission to selective law schools, and a lever to what financial aid is available. How can Native prelaws best overcome the LSAT barrier?
In order to get their best LSAT scores, Native students need access to high-quality LSAT prep courses. A few prelaws can prepare effectively without an LSAT prep teacher, but most will get their best scores under the guidance of an expert instructor.
Many more American Indian students could benefit from high-quality LSAT prep, which tends to be expensive, if funding were made available to subsidize it. A good model is the Native American Pipeline to Law Initiative, which provides intensive, subsidized LSAT prep courses to its participants. This is probably the single most effective targeted investment available to increase the number of competitive Native law school applicants. Much more of this funding is needed.
Anyone with a suggestion of a funding source to support LSAT prep for Native students should contact Jay Rosner of The Princeton Review Foundation, at JayR@review.com.
LSAT prep is much closer to a training process than to a purely educational process. A good analogy is having a tennis coach – someone with experience and expertise who can teach, observe, monitor and fine-tune technique in a way that an individual may have difficulty doing on his/her own. The great tennis players all have coaches – none of them rely on themselves to improve and perfect their technique. Having an LSAT prep “coach” is similar.
The LSAT puts a premium on test-taking technique and speed. The LSAT is essentially a reading bubble test, favoring strong, fast readers with lots of exposure to challenging reading material. It requires that students be able to handle text and deductive reasoning in very particular ways. The task for LSAT takers is to leverage their reading ability and become very quick at accurately answering LSAT questions, by learning and perfecting test-taking techniques in the 2 to 3-month period right before the test. Note that every affluent prelaw has an expert LSAT prep teacher guiding him/her.
A secondary focal point with a much smaller investment would be to develop a cadre of Native LSAT prep teachers who could serve as role models for success on the test. An LSAT prep teacher need be neither a law student nor a lawyer, although those folks bring additional credibility. An effective LSAT teacher needs to be able to get a very high score on the LSAT and also needs to be able to and want to successfully communicate with and guide students to get their best LSAT score. In fact, most of the better LSAT teachers today are neither lawyers nor law students. Often they have done very well on the SAT and GRE, particularly the reading sections of those tests, and then they take a practice LSAT and decide that they would like to teach that test.
The first step for a prospective Native LSAT prep teacher is to take a carefully timed practice LSAT and get a high score. The next step would be to attend an intensive LSAT prep training conducted by a master LSAT instructor to determine if the candidate is able to effectively teach LSAT techniques to students. I’ve been able to place some Native teacher candidates into excellent SAT and ACT teacher trainings conducted by The Princeton Review, but I’ve not yet been able to place even one Native LSAT prep teacher candidate. I’d like to.
As a long-term critic of the LSAT, I could write a lengthy essay on what I consider to be the LSAT’s faults. Let it suffice to say here that the LSAT is flawed, limited, skewed, too speeded and addresses only a couple of the many skills that a successful law student and successful lawyer needs. The LSAT does not come close to predicting success in law school; in fact, it only helps in a very small way to predict first year law school grade point average, which is not very much at all. Despite that, law schools put way too much weight on the LSAT in admissions, requiring applicants to prioritize LSAT prep. American Indian students need to take up the challenge, confront the LSAT, try to access an LSAT prep course and get their best score.
Wherever there are serious discussions of Indian Law and the legal profession, enlarging the pipeline for Native lawyers in general, and assisting Native prelaws with the LSAT in particular, should be addressed. The Indian Law Section of the Federal Bar Association, the National Native American Bar Association, the Indigenous Peoples Section of the American Bar Association, the National Congress of American Indians and state and local Native American Bar Associations are the kinds of organizations that should grapple with this regularly. Current members and alumni of Native American Law Student Associations at law schools also have a role to play in expanding the pipeline for Native lawyers.