January 6, 2010 5:51 PM
Study: Minority Law Student Numbers Dip as Law School Capacity Rises
Posted by Drew Combs
The percentage of African American and Mexican American students
enrolled in law school dipped between 1993 and 2008, even as overall
law school capacity rose across the country, according to a study
released Tuesday by Columbia Law School's Lawyering in the Digital Age
Over the relevant 15-year period, the study--conducted in conjunction with the Society of American Law Teachers, found that the total number of African Americans and Mexican Americans entering law school dropped from 4,142 in 1993 to 4,060 in 2008. Combined with the increase in overall law school capacity (from 43,520 to 46,500), that translated into a 7.5 percent and 11.7 percent decrease of African American and Mexican American first-year law students, respectively.
"It's like imagining Carnegie Hall, which seats almost 3000 people, filled to capacity but no Mexican Americans or African Americans allowed in," says Conrad Johnson, the Columbia professor who oversees the clinic, regarding the additional spots created over the past 15 years. “For many African American and Mexican American students, law school is an elusive goal.”
How elusive? Between 2003 and 2008, 61 percent of African American and 46 Mexican American applicants were rejected by every law school to which they applied, according to Law School Admissions Council data reviewed by the clinic's researchers. The “shut-out” rate for white applicants was 34 percent.
Those figures are telling considering that in recent years the legal industry has embarked on well-publicized efforts to highlight the importance of diversity, with general counsel at some of the country’s largest corporations in particular calling attention to the issue. For their part, law firms have set up diversity task forces and local bar associations have embarked on initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in the legal profession. The Columbia study suggests that a significant increase in diversity within the legal trade will remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.
Also striking is the study's finding that the drops in the percentage of African American and Mexican American first-year law students came as the overall grade point and LSAT performance of students in these groups actually increased.
Academics and practitioners involved in efforts to increase diversity in the legal industry pointed, as they have in the past, to a "pipeline" problem, to explain the disappointing results.
“To get capable candidates for law school, you have to have capable candidates for college and it goes all the way back to elementary school,” says Edwin Reeser, a California-based attorney who has served on NALP and California state bar committees charged with addressing the issue. “A disproportionately smaller number of kids form minority communities get the support they need to succeed,” he adds.
But others familiar with this topic also cited the increasing cost of law school and poor performance of minorities on the LSAT.
Anthony Solana, an attorney who has written several books aimed at guiding minorities through the law school admissions process, says that while minority applicants' LSAT scores may have improved over the past 15 years, generally speaking, they do not match those of white applicants. This, he says, puts minorities at a distinct disadvantage.
“Law school administrators and admissions committees place a substantial weight on LSAT scores because they play an important part in law school rankings,” Solana says. At the same time, he adds, as the importance of the rankings has risen, so has the cost of attending law school--something else that has hurt minority students.
Rodney Fong, an assistant dean at Golden Gate University Law School, has studied diversity in the legal profession as a member of the California bar’s 25-member fairness committee. Fong says recent outreach efforts by the council have revealed hesitancy among some minorities to embark on a legal career because of hefty tuition. “The one thing that kept popping up was the cost of law school,” Fong says.Make a comment