Law School Admissions Lag Among Minorities January 6, 2010

Law School Admissions Lag Among Minorities

By Tamar Lewin
Published: January 6, 2010

While law schools added about 3,000 seats for first-year students from 1993 to 2008, both the percentage and the number of black and Mexican-American law students declined in that period, according to a study by a Columbia Law School professor.

What makes the declines particularly troubling, said the professor, Conrad Johnson, is that in that same period, both groups improved their college grade-point averages and their scores on the Law School Admission Test, or L.S.A.T.

“Even though their scores and grades are improving, and are very close to those of white applicants, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are increasingly being shut out of law schools,” said Mr. Johnson, who oversees the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia, which collaborated with the Society of American Law Teachers to examine minority enrollment rates at American law schools.

However, Hispanics other than Mexicans and Puerto Ricans made slight gains in law school enrollment.

The number of black and Mexican-American students applying to law school has been relatively constant, or growing slightly, for two decades. But from 2003 to 2008, 61 percent of black applicants and 46 percent of Mexican-American applicants were denied acceptance at all of the law schools to which they applied, compared with 34 percent of white applicants.

“What’s happening, as the American population becomes more diverse, is that the lawyer corps and judges are remaining predominantly white,” said John Nussbaumer, associate dean of Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s campus in Auburn Hills, Mich., which enrolls an unusually high percentage of African-American students.

Mr. Nussbaumer, who has been looking at the same minority-representation numbers, independently of the Columbia clinic, has become increasingly concerned about the large percentage of minority applicants shut out of law schools.

“A big part of it is that many schools base their admissions criteria not on whether students have a reasonable chance of success, but how those L.S.A.T. numbers are going to affect their rankings in the U.S. News & World Report,” Mr. Nussbaumer said. “Deans get fired if the rankings drop, so they set their L.S.A.T. requirements very high.

“We’re living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way, that those students with the slightly lower L.S.A.T. scores can graduate, pass the bar and be terrific lawyers.”

Margaret Martin Barry, co-president of the Society of American Law Teachers, said that while she understood the importance of rankings, law schools must address the issue of diversity. “If you’re so concerned with rankings, you’re going to lose a whole generation,” she said.

The Columbia study found that among the 46,500 law school matriculants in the fall of 2008, there were 3,392 African-Americans, or 7.3 percent, and 673 Mexican-Americans, or 1.4 percent. Among the 43,520 matriculants in 1993, there were 3,432 African-Americans, or 7.9 percent, and 710 Mexican-Americans, or 1.6 percent. The study, whose findings are detailed at the Web site A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity, relied on the admission council’s minority categories, which track Mexican-Americans separately from Puerto Ricans and Hispanic/Latino students.

“We focused on the two groups, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, who did not make progress in law school representation during the period,” Mr. Johnson said. “The Hispanic/Latino group did increase, from 3.1 percent of the matriculants in 1993, to 5.1 percent in 2008.”

Mr. Johnson said he did not have a good explanation for the disparity, particularly since the 2008 LSAT scores among Mexican-Americans were, on average, one point higher than those of the Hispanics, and one point lower in 1993.

Over all, Mr. Johnson said, it is puzzling that minority enrollment in law schools has fallen, even since the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger, that race can be taken into account in law school admissions because the diversity of the student body is a compelling state interest.

“Someone told me that things had actually gotten worse since the Grutter decision, and that’s what got us started looking at this,” Mr. Johnson said. “Many people are not aware of the numbers, even among those interested in diversity issues. For many African-American and Mexican-American students, law school is an elusive goal.”


I have mixed feelings about this article. First, I know how hard it was historically for blacks to even obtain the privilege to read, eat in public, use the restroom in public, ride in transportation in integrated transport. Let alone to obtain the right the vote and get a formal education. The problem is that with invidious discrimination that is interwoven in American society, going to law school will be a financial detriment. This will likely affects one credit (mind you there are studies which shows black Americans with equal or slightly better credit scores still receive subprime rates: [Credit, Capital and Communities: The Implications of the Changing Mortgage Banking Industry for Community Based Organizations, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University(2004) AND 88th Annual Report, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2001). Denial rates for conventional home purchase loans in 2000 were 45 percent for black applicants, 42 percent for Native American applicants, 31 percent for Hispanic applicants, 22 percent for white applicants, and 12 percent for Asian applicants.]).   In a way, we desparately need quality attorneys to fight institutionalized discrimination, but to make it seem like law schools are doing certain minorities a favor by soliciting their borrowed dollars to be flunked out, hazed, unemployed and an indentured servant in modern society and use a criterion which isn’t fair even when you do things the right way; it’s like either way you’re damned. MAYBE THE ENROLLMENT RATES ARE LOWER BECAUSE MINORITIES FIGURED OUT THE GAME EARLIER AND CHOSE NOT TO BE SUCKERED–I tried to end the thought on a positive note!


  1. Amirah Said:

    wow…and to think I am one of those hopeful, black students who would like to pursue a career in law. Silly me…again! First the music industry, now this!

  2. […] loans, unemployed, upward mobility, won't get a job } In January Life’s Mockery posted: Law School Admissions Lag Among Minorities January 6, 2010 « Life’s Mockery . All Rights […]

  3. […] The new students are a nontraditional group, ranging from 21 to 59 years old. More than a fifth will pursue law degrees part time while continuing to work. Half are Massachusetts residents. Nearly a third are black, Latino, Asian, or Native American, the highest minority enrollment among Mass. law schools. The author attempts to make it appear that a third of incoming class is alot. It isn’t. Minorities have caught onto the game. Hopefully the spin on this article doesn’t attempt more students, especially minorities to take the bait to attend law school, especially this one! [see Law School Admissions Lag Among Minorities January 6, 2010 « Life's Mockery] […]

  4. nubiansage Said:

    I think this article is pretty much spot on. USNWR certainly plays a part in the recruitment of minoritiy students. Most law schools are not willing to take a hit on their medians because of the job security of law school deans. As much as people criticize lower tier schools they at least make an effort to recruit diversity (Texas Southern, Howard, North Carolina Central, Southern, Southern Illinois, etc.). But at the same time law school may be cost prohibitive for a lot of minorities. If the schools are serious about diversity, they should commit to at least offering scholarships (not to just a select few with exceptional numbers) to increase enrollment and offer academic support to ensure that minorities will succeed in law school.

    • A Law School Victim Said:

      But median of what? Grades? Are we assuming that blacks are incapable of high achievement in IVY League schools or do we know most likely with mandatory curves and certain number of each letter grade to be doled out, it’s easier to justify not admitted qualified black students because professors placed them in a presumed status, thus using prior Black students (if any) statistics as the justification for not admitting them.

      As far as Howard Law School, Howard is an HBCU and is known for it’s medical and other graduate schools. Historically these and others like Spelman, Morehouse and Tuskegee were high ranking universities though their historically inception was to build higher education for Blacks who were not allowed to matriculate at “white schools.” I’m not advocating segregation, but I noticed historically we were forced to work within our own communities with our own professors (and support from some benevolent others) but showed we could still compete with the best of them. In a way these quotas, statistics with a corporate majority backing is stacking up the economic, educational, and social stacks against us.

      • nubiansage Said:

        No. I wasn’t assuming that minority students couldn’t compete. But remember minorities, as a whole, tend to score on average much lower on the LSAT than Whites. And because of this reason law schools aren’t willing to take a holistic approach for lower scoring minority candidates least they take a hit to their median LSAT by accepting them. By maintaining or increasing the LSAT median, the schools ensure themselves of maintaining or increasing their ranks. Personally, I think USNWR needs to get out of the business because it indirectly aids in hurting minority candidates.

        Yes, Howard is an EXCELLENT law school but even Howard’s LSAT median is well below the T14 average…..yet they give a number of minorities opportunities to succeed despite not having the credentials of their Ivy League counterparts. And yet Howard has such a strong reputation that they’re able to get big, prestigious firms to recruit from there.

  5. JD Underdog Said:

    I agree with how you put it at the end: Minorities figured out the gain. Law schools love to trumpet minority recruitment stats, but it’s a shame that many of them go thinking the good life is just around the corner. From my Asian perspective, I’ve found that the parents are even more zealous about getting their children into as much formal education as possible. After a while, you reach a point of diminishing returns.

    • A Law School Victim Said:

      I’m not sure if you are South Asian or not but I know plenty whose parents steer them (push) towards engineering and medicine. I have met the one or two hippie ones, either they stopped their parents from controlling them and didn’t do it or they learned to balance their own personal interests (but still get the formal education).

{ RSS feed for comments on this post} · { TrackBack URI }

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: