TWO major research studies have all but demolished the conventional belief that academic qualifications should govern the admission requirements for law students.
The studies, revealed at the IBA conference in Berlin last week and conducted in Australia and Canada, found that law school admission tests results correlate to a law student's eventual academic success in only 3 per cent of cases.
The dramatic results also reveal that law students' class and educational background do not contribute to academic success at law school; nor does it matter whether the student is a mother or a wife.
Lyndal Taylor, of Queensland University of Technology Law Faculty, the largest law school in Australia and one of the largest in the world, said her research, based on surveys of law students and graduates of the school, pointed to a need for serious changes in the way law schools admit their pupils and structure their courses.
Her research showed that the most important factors lowering academic success were: studying part-time at evening classes rather than full-time, having work commitments, lack of family support and exam anxiety.
"Even more interesting were the factors that did not affect academic success," she said. "These were: the quality of secondary school, previous degrees, reasons for entering law school, having to look after children and a home, marriage, parents' jobs, and education and having a friend in the law."
Kai Hildebrandt, of the University of Windsor Law School, Ontario, Canada, examined questionnaires from 600 students and 500 graduates of his law school, which in 1978 introduced radical new selection criteria.
Instead of relying solely on academic grades and admission tests, the college used these as one criterion in a list of eight that included achievements outside the classroom in sports and politics. Windsor is still the only law school in Canada that does not rely exclusively on academic qualifications.
Hildebrandt's survey found the academic achievement of students was no different from students at conventional colleges. More importantly, their earning power, once they graduated, was no different.
"What is different is the public face of the lawyers we have put out there," Hildebrandt said. "They have different attitudes from other lawyers, they have different ideas."