Diversity at Top Law Schools Remains Stagnant

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Recent reports on diversity at law schools present a complex picture of the trends, many in the trenches say. 

For one thing, said Aaron N. Taylor, a professor at St. Louis University’s School of Law, while trends at law schools show an increase in enrollment for students of color, these trends only hold true for those students at schools with the lowest median LSAT scores. At the “elite” schools, the reverse is true.

Blake Morant, dean of the George Washington University School of Law, said a lot of this is attributable to external factors.

“There are certain externalities that … have made focusing on diversity and achieving it more complicated,” he said.

For one, outside ranking entities—particularly U.S. News and World Report—place a heavy emphasis on the admissions requirements and makeup of the incoming class as a factor to determine quality of institution, he said. And since consumers put a great amount of stock in these rankings, he added, the top schools are under a lot of pressure to place well, if they are to attract high-quality students.

Of course, a magazine ranking committee is not the sole determinant for the diversity disparities between top-tier and lower-tier institutions.

“It’s much more complex than that,” said Morant. He adds that “there are so many pressures on law schools today, in terms of bringing in an entering class” that is high-achieving but still considers diversity, still promotes experiential learning and reflects a global perspective on campus.

In addition to things like magazine rankings, there are historic and systemic adversities to overcome as well, according to Taylor.

“Current demographics of the legal profession can be tied to a long history of exclusion,” he said. “For decades, legal education and the profession were effectively closed, by law and practice, to people of color.”

“The profound legacy of the period of exclusion is still apparent today,” Taylor continued. He added that the lack of diversity at the highest levels is not a failure of the system; in fact, he said, it is reflective of its initial intent.

“Legal education has never been a bastion of inclusion; it was never intended to be. Our narrow conceptions of merit ensure that admissions processes at the most selective law schools will continue to be ‘social engineering to preserve the elites,’” said Taylor. “Diversity is much more palatable as an ideal—a marketing pitch, even—than a reality.”

But to Morant, making a concerted effort to promote diversity on campus is a no-brainer, regardless of the institution’s perceived prestige.

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Source: Diverse Education | Autumn A. Arnett

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