Disturbing Decline in Minority Enrollment at Law Schools
A new Web site created by Columbia Law School documents a disturbing drop in enrollment by African-American and Mexican-American students in America’s law schools. Even though African-American and Mexican-American students have applied to law schools in relatively constant numbers over the past 15 years, their representation in law schools has fallen.
Even more worrisome is the fact that during the same period, African-American and Mexican- American applicants are doing better than ever on leading indicators used by law schools to determine admissibility—undergraduate grade point average and LSAT scores. In addition, the size of law school classes and the total number of law schools have increased—making room for nearly 4,000 more students.
Despite all that, first-year African-American and Mexican-American enrollment has declined 8.6 percent, from a combined 3,937 in 1992 to 3,595 in 2006. The data are provided together for the first time on a new Web site created by Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, in collaboration with the Society of American Law Teachers <http://www.saltlaw.org/> (SALT).
“Most folks are not aware of the numbers, even among those interested in diversity issues,” said Conrad Johnson, Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and a member of SALT’s Board of Governors. “Law school admissions among African-Americans and Mexican-Americans is not as happy a story as some might think.”
“The statistics help people focus on the numbers, not on ideology. Nowhere else on the Web are these statistics pulled together in such depth,” Johnson said. The site includes 12 graphs and nearly 200 data points based on Law School Admission Council statistics for each year.
SALT is concerned about the trend because a less diverse body of law students leads to a number of poor outcomes, including a less diverse pool of lawyers and judges to serve the public, diminished faith in the administration of justice and a less productive, creative workforce. In addition, a diverse classroom experience helps to teach students about the world beyond their own lives and to work with people very different from themselves—a key asset to being a lawyer, Johnson said.
“We need our students to see more than one perspective and develop their critical thinking skills. You can’t do that if all they see is the same small cut of society in class after class,” Johnson said.
The site includes an analysis of the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision written by then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in Grutter v. Bollinger, which reaffirmed the limited use of affirmative action in university and law school admissions. In this most significant affirmative action case in a generation, the Supreme Court found that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.”
“We need diversity in our legal profession to promote better legal education and fairness in our system of justice,” Johnson said. Columbia Law School students Christina Quintero ’08 and Jeffrey Penn ’07 helped create the Web site as part of their experience in the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic. Paula Johnson, a SALT board member and professor at Syracuse University College of Law, prepared the analysis of the Grutter case.
Students in Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic <http://www.law.columbia. edu/focusareas/clinics/digital> get hands-on experience using the digital technologies reshaping the profession. They work with public- interest lawyers and members of the judiciary. Students have handled eviction cases, advocated to restore essential government benefits, raised awareness about the collateral consequences of criminal charges, organized the pro bono efforts of the private bar in response to 9/11, and worked with community groups to press for affordable housing.#
Columbia Law School <http:// www.law.columbia.edu/> , founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.