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Law School Diversity Improves—But Only at the Bottom

, The National Law Journal

   | 3 Comments

The percentage of African-American and Hispanic students enrolled in law school increased between 2010 and 2013, but those gains came almost exclusively at less prestigious law schools with lower admission standards, according to new research.

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What's being said

  • John Charles Kunich

    Ms. Sloan’s article highlights some key defects with the law school admissions system. Many law schools place enormous emphasis on an applicant’s UGPA and LSAT numbers, even if they also in some manner take racial/ethnic/gender diversity into account, among other intangible factors. Administrators often claim that they emphasize these numerical criteria because they are good predictors of a candidate’s likelihood of success in law school, on the bar exam, and in the practice of law.
    In actuality, the main reason for the huge weight most schools give to UGPA and LSAT is their artificially inflated importance in determining the U.S. News rankings. Despite numerous well-reasoned critiques of the U.S. News system based on its arbitrariness, susceptibility to manipulation, and perverse anti-diversity bias, the rankings are still crucial to a law school’s success.
    Everyone from prospective students to faculty to potential employers use the rankings as a convenient surrogate for merit. When a school receives a high rank, it attracts more applicants, and it can afford to be more selective in which applicants it accepts. To the extent the LSAT is correlated with probability of success on the bar exam, a more selective school can achieve higher bar-pass rates and higher employment placement rates for its graduates. And the cycle perpetuates itself.
    Recent public attention on the practice of “poaching” or accepting large numbers of transfer students after the 1L year has illuminated the self-interested motive that drives prominent “not for profit” schools and their admissions policies. Students with LSAT and UGPA numbers beneath a school’s standards for an entering 1L become transfigured into entirely acceptable credentials for a transferring 2L, because their numbers will not erode the school’s U.S. News ranking, but the tuition these new students pay will benefit the school’s bottom line.
    Standardized exams like the LSAT are notoriously skewed against African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. The addiction of many law schools to lofty U.S. News rankings thus acts as an unofficial barrier to the entry of many minority applicants each year. In an era of declining applications, the decline in racial diversity in our law schools is the completely foreseeable consequence of a system that sacrifices equality of opportunity for all applicants on the altar of the law schools’ self-interest.

  • ACG

    Herb - YOU c‘mon! Are you seriously still talking about the OJ verdict, which was 20 years ago?? As a Howard Law grad, your comments are highly offensive and pretty ridiculous, but more than that, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the bigger issues at play here. Of course merit is important, but so is a diverse legal community. This is as evident today as it was two generations ago. Naturally, we all view issues from our own individual perspectives. Having diverse voices at the table ensures issues are analyzed from all perspectives, not just from the white male perspective. If you don‘t understand that, then you are part of the problem.

  • Herb Spencer

    Oh, c‘mon! Are we still more focused on the color of one‘s skin instead of the content of his character? Re: the latter, I can‘t help but be reminded of the jubilation among the Howard U. law students as the OJ criminal verdict was announced. Are these the kinds of future lawyers we want to put on "career paths," let alone launch on "trajectories" whose targets are unknown? Merit, merit, and MERIT: the ONLY consideration that should matter in law - or any other type of school, college, or university - admissions.

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