Law school hopeful helps push for fair entrance exam
By Paul Natinsky
For most students, long, complex story problems are the bane of primary education, banished forever well before the end of high school. It is almost impossible to conquer these mind melting mathematic mazes without sketching a diagram. Difficult for anyone, but nearly impossible for the blind and visually impaired.
Yet, like a specter from the distant past, story problems show up in a section of the Law School Admissions Test that measures a skill called “analytical reasoning.” The LSAT measures a skill that has a marginal impact on academic performance for law students, but not for those preparing for the bar exam or for practicing attorneys, said Jason Turkish, managing partner at Nyman Turkish, a law firm specializing in disability law.
Enter Angelo Binno, a blind law school hopeful for more than a decade. Binno took the LSAT twice and failed both times. Unable to draw visual diagrams, Binno simply guessed at answers in the analytical reasoning section—which is 25 percent of the test—and hoped for the best.
After failing the LSAT a second time in 2010, Binno teamed with blind attorney, and now Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Richard Bernstein and filed a lawsuit against the American Bar Association. That case was dismissed and Turkish assumed the reigns, ultimately filing a lawsuit against the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), a non-profit organization that administers the LSAT.
“However this test changes, it has to change for everybody, given those prior cases. What we have to have—and it’s important anyway for notions of fundamental fairness—is to have a test that everybody can take and that everybody can be scored on equally,” said Turkish.
He said a new test that doesn’t require drawing will help those with physical disabilities, quadriplegia, nerve issues and other disabilities as well as the visually impaired.
“What they’ve said all along is that they’ve offered accommodations,” said Turkish. “Traditional accommodations are great—extended time or braille, things like that—are great for other sections of the test, but you could give Angelo all the time in the world and he still can’t see, the guy can’t draw a picture, and it still isn’t going to distort his aptitude for the study of law.”
Binno’s original lawsuit in 2011 sued the American Bar Association, which changed its law school accreditation standards in the mid-1990s.
“For decades law schools in this country just waived the test for someone like Angelo. They would just say, ‘This is ridiculous, we’re not going to judge your ability to draw pictures,” said Turkish. “In the mid-1990s, the accreditation rules changed, the ABA changed them so law schools’ hands were tied. They couldn’t waive the test anymore. That’s why we first sued the ABA.”
“This settlement didn’t come easy,” said Binno. “Jason dealt with a lot of foot-dragging. When we sued the ABA at the Court of Appeals, they dispatched seven attorneys to fight against us.”
Turkish said the LSAC has a new president, a new general counsel and might be more amenable to voluntary reform. He said the LSAT overseers are tired of being sued and ready for change.
That case was unsuccessful and they went directly after the test creator, LSAC, and got substantive change.
As a result of the 2017 lawsuit, the LSAC is tasked with removing the current analytical reasoning questions and possibly finding another way to test that skill. Angelo will be part of that process, which has an October 2023 deadline. There are no guarantees about the outcome of the change process, although it could come in ahead of schedule.
A fair test that accommodates the needs of all takers can’t come fast enough for Binno. At age 37 he has been working at law school admission since he first took the LSAT in 2008. Perhaps he soon will be among the 130,000 law school hopefuls each year across the United States and Canada who take the LSAT.
“I feel very bullish on (Angelo’s) law school prospects. Something tells me he won’t be waiting four years to go to law school,” said Turkish.