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Discover the Innovation Empowering Students to Thrive Academically and Beyond

For more than 15 years, Chris Robertson has spent his life in a classroom earning his law degree and then teaching the next generation of students. His experience revealed a prototypical law school student doesn’t exist.

First-year law students are chemistry majors. They are in their 30s. They’re in their 50s. They’re retired from their first career. Some are first-generation students, while others come from a family of lawyers. What hasn’t changed in decades is the scale on which law schools judge students' qualifications.

Roberston and a few others changed that. A former associate dean and law professor at the University of Arizona and now current associate dean for strategic initiatives at Boston University School of Law, Robertson co-developed a new law school admissions test with Marc Miller, Dean of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

“I think every law school is going to be using JD-Next for admissions within the next several years,” Roberston said. “I think that’s exciting. I think we’re going to see this influencing beyond law schools as well.”

Two goals laid the foundation for JD-Next. The first was to arm students with information in a preparatory program before their first day of law school. The second aspect was to negate the racial disparities seen in standardized testing. 

“These standardized tests made it hard to recruit a class that looked like America because there are these huge gaps in scores between minoritized students and white students,” Robertson said. “In the classroom as a professor, I didn’t see these gaps. Once they were in the class, they were OK because of a supportive learning environment.”

Through peer reviewed studies, JD-Next equals the LSAT’s predictability of student success and nearly erases the racial disparities.

Robertson, Miller, and others such as Jessica Findley, Director of Bar and Academic Success at the University of Arizona, created JD-Next to develop that environment for students before they stepped on campus. It also happened to act as an admissions test. JD-Next is completely online and between five and 10 weeks long. The program focuses on five well-known contract cases and includes office hours with instructors to answer questions.  At the end of the program, students take a 4-hour exam that includes 60 multiple-choice questions and an ungraded essay.

Robertson and others believe the test can be just as valuable a predictor of a student’s success in law school as the LSAT. At best, it’s a law school admissions test that also provides students with a boost to hit the ground running in their first year of law school.

“The best part of JD-Next is you’re measuring a student’s capability to learn law material and do well with it, rather than where the student is today - economic and educational advantages and all that  - but instead taking someone where they are today, when exposed to law material and a learning environment, how capable are they of mastering it,” said David Yellen, dean of the School of Law at the University of Miami. 

Through several peer reviewed studies, JD-Next not only equals the LSAT’s predictability of a student’s success in law school, it nearly erases the racial disparities of the test scores associated with other standardized tests. 

“I looked closely at JD-Next and became an enthusiast and eventually an evangelist for the program. I began talking up the program whenever I could,” said Daniel Rodriguez, Harold Washington Professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Laura Chun had already been accepted to law school at the University of California Irvine when a college counselor told her about JD-Next as a pilot program.

“The best part of JD-Next is you’re measuring a student’s capability…when exposed to law material…how capable are they of mastering it.” David Yellen, Dean, University of Miami

“JD-Next introduced the idea of issue spotting. Every lawyer and every law student knows what that means. So much of your first year is issue spotting,” Chun said. “The JD-Next final was much more similar to my actual final in law school than the LSAT could ever be.”

Chun’s classmates attended other preparatory programs and yet none of them felt as prepared as she did. In fact, as a first-year, her professor complimented Chun on her ability to discern the important takeaways of a case.

“It’s because I did it a bunch during the summer. It wasn’t perfect, but the skills of pulling out the important information from what you’re reading gave me a head start,” Chun said. “You’re getting a glimpse into what your first year will feel like. The problems you’ll face, how do you solve these problems, what are the most important skills that a first-year law student is trying to learn?”

“JD-Next introduced the idea of issue spotting. Every lawyer and every law student knows what that means.” Laura Chun, Student, UC Irvine

The final exam highlights how much a student learned from and grew through the course. Many professors around the country, like Robertson and Findley, believe there’s no better way to weigh a student’s ability to become a lawyer and consequently change the world.

“I’ve been teaching for about 12 years, so there are students who are now partners at law firms, some saving lives, challenging the death penalty or representing immigrants or the president,” Robertson said. “That is exciting, but this is a way to broaden that impact and make law school more inclusive.”

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