Study On Law School Diversity Sees Improvement At The Bottom

The National Law Journal reported on a a diversity study conducted by Aaron Taylor, an assistant professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law. Taylor "examined application trends, Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores and enrollment figures for minority and white students in both 2010 and 2013. He hoped to better understand how the dramatic downturn in law school applications nationwide has affected diversity."

"Taylor focused on 2010 and 2013 because they defined 'feast or famine' periods for legal education. The incoming class in 2010 was largest on record, but by 2013 enrollment had declined by nearly a quarter, representing the smallest cohort of new law students in 40 years."

This "feast or famine" meant that "[c]ompetition between schools for students was fierce in 2013." And "overall admission rates rose to 51 percent from 36 percent in 2010. Theoretically, [when it comes to diversity] relaxed admissions standards should help African-American and Hispanic students get in the door, since those groups on average score lower on the LSAT. (The average LSAT score for African-Americans is 142; Hispanics come in at 146; and white and Asian test takers average 153.)."

This theory was correct as "[t]he 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. He found that law schools at the bottom of the prestige ladder—those with the lowest median LSAT scores for incoming students—have relied disproportionately on African-American and Hispanic students to fill their classes. That shift may have served as an economic lifeline for law schools during a difficult period, but bolstered the racial stratification that already existed. Elite law schools with higher median LSAT scores actually saw a proportional decrease in African-American and Hispanic students between 2010 and 2013, Taylor found."

It's wonderful that law schools, in general, are more diverse. And "Taylor credits lower-tier law schools with helping to improve the overall diversity of the legal profession, which remains significantly whiter than the population as a whole. Elite law schools should do their part by admitting a larger number of African-American and Hispanic students."

But Taylor remains concerned that the higher ranked "schools that can ensure good career prospects aren’t making diversity a priority. There seems to be much more of a focus on the [LSAT and grade-point average] numbers.”

I can attest to the benefits of going to a diverse law school. My law school has, for many years, been considered the most diverse law school in the nation, which is attributable to its admissions policies. Law school was the first time in my life where I was surrounded by a large number of people from other backgrounds, and it was an eye opening time filled with curiosity and ultimately total acceptance of other cultures.

It behooves elite law schools to also promote diversity. As one commenter put it, "[t]he legal profession will never be more diverse than the population of law students. We need to build a more diverse profession—and it needs to start with law schools across the board.”

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