2005 The Whitest Law School Report
and Other Law School Rankings Related
to Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Law School
Professor Vernellia Randall

LSAT,  Admissions and Discrimination
Chapter 2: L.S.A.T., Rankings, Law School Admissions and Traditionally Discriminated Against Racial Groups

What's New!

(Based on 2004 ABA/LSAC Information)

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Pages

Admission Factors
LSAC Policies
LSAC Practicies
Not that Good
LSAC ScoreBands
SALT and LSAC
Ltr frm LSAC
Ltr frm USNEWS
Education Attainment
Selected Readings
Use of Quota
Minoritoes in Legal Ed
Racism ABA
Bar Study
Racism Stupid!
Black Matriculants

   
   

 


 

 

 

 

With the release of the latest US News & World Report rankings, law professors are dashing to find out where their schools placed.  This is a good time to issue an alert:

If you are a Black, Hispanic, Asian or Indian law school applicant who has been denied admission, listen up!  You may have been discriminated against based on your race.

It is not an intentional, in your face, “we don’t want Blacks” in our law school, kind of discrimination.  No, institutional racism is hard to understand and even harder to eliminate.

Institutional racism occurs when an institution adopts a policy, practice, or procedure that appears neutral but has a disproportionately negative impact on a racial or ethnic minority group.

In the case of law schools, the discriminatory practice is the misuse of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in the admission process.FN   Specifically, its estimated that at least 90% of all law schools have admission practices that presumptively deny applicants based on how they fall on a grid formulated around LSAT and Undergraduate Grade Point average (UGPA). FN   This misuse of the LSAT has a discriminatory impact.FN

For example, based on a LSAT cut-off of 145, over 60% of black applicants will be presumptively denied[PC1]  but only 20% of white applicants will be presumptively denied.  While presumptive denial need not be absolute, for some schools less than .5 % of the applicants in the “presumptive deny” category are subsequently admitted.

This misuse of the LSAT is devastating to all minorities, particularly Blacks and Latinos. For instance, using the LSAT cuts in half the number of Black and Puerto Rican students who would be admitted based on their performance in college, such as their UGPA.

Disturbingly, law schools know that the LSAT is not capable of making fine distinctions among candidates.  According to Philip Shelton, the president of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the LSAT is “good but not that good.”FN  Mr. Shelton has said that if students with an LSAT of 145 and 144 “took the test a dozen more times… [the LSAC would ] have no idea which student would end up with the higher average score.”FN

According to LSAC, a 14 point spread would be necessary in order to be 95% certain that a single score is the true representation of an applicant’s skills.  In plain English, an applicant who gets a score of 144 could have skills somewhere in the range of 137 to 151.  FN  

It is important to note that this is not an issue of ability to perform successfully in law school. Students at all ranges of the LSAT continuum are successful law students, law graduates, and attorneys.  In fact, before we changed our admission grid at my own school, over 48% of our African American graduates in the last five years have had LSAT scores below 145.

Then why are law schools using presumptive grids?

According to some law school deans,  it is the pressure to increase rankings in the US News & World Report.  However, LSAT scores only account for 12% of a law school’s overall ranking score.  

Another asserted reason is increasing first time bar passage.  Studies show that over 70-90% of all graduates pass the bar within 2-3 retakes.FN   Among those examiners of color who eventually passed,  between 94 and 97 percent passed after one or two attempts and 99 percent passed by the third attempt. FN   There are still more effective ways to increase bar passage without limiting opportunity to attend law school, such as teaching accepted students what they need to know to pass the bar.

Some faculty assert that reading all the files is onerous and time consuming, but we get paid good money to do a job that does not have many demands.  Should faculty limit access and opportunity for racial and ethnic minorities because we are unwilling to spend time to do our job?  Furthermore, as long as we invite people to apply, shouldn’t they all get the same careful consideration?

Whatever the reason that law schools choose to implement LSAT  “presumptive deny” practices, it is completely unacceptable to have policies and practices that effectively discriminate against Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Indians.

For one reason, minorities are seriously underrepresented in the legal profession.  Only 4% of the nation’s lawyers are Black even though Blacks represent 13% of the population of the United States and 10% of the LSAC application pool.  This lack of representation has far ranging effects including limited access to power.  Ever notice how many of the power brokers in the United States are lawyers?  Perhaps a more significant effect is the ever-growing distrust of the legal system by racial minorities, due in part to the lack of lawyers and judges that look like them.

The misuse of the LSAT is not just an example of institutional racism, it is also an example of systemic racism because many different institutions that contribute to the misuse of the LSAT.  A change in any one of the institutions in the system could effect a positive change.

For instance, U.S. News & World Report could integrate diversity as a primary part of their ranking system, which would cause schools to be as concerned about diversity as they are about increasing the LSAT.  U.S. News could also stop using the LSAT of the lower 25% of the class in its calculations.

Deans and faculty of law schools could reject the LSAT as the primary factor and have admissions committees do full file reviews, balancing a broad range of factors important to producing ethical, competent attorneys, including the diversity of the class.  

University and College Leadership could assert their commitment to diversity and social justice by enforcing their anti-discrimination policies.

The American Bar Association could refuse to accredit schools whose “presumptive deny” cut-off is inconsistent with actual or projected ability to perform.

Similarly, the American Association of Law School (AALS) could refuse to accept as members law schools who misuse the LSAT and discriminate against minorities.

State Supreme Courts could adopt the Wisconsin approach and admit to the bar any law student who graduates from a state school, thus reducing bar passage as an excuse for not admitting student.  Furthermore, the State Supreme Court could refuse to accredit any state school that has policies and practices that have the effect of discriminating in its admission process.

National Civil Rights organizations (i.e. NACCP Legal Defense & Educational FundThe Equal Justice Society, The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Asian American Legal Defense Fund, Native American Rights Fund)could investigate this practice as a potential violation of civil rights.  

State Civil Rights organizations could investigate the practice as a violation of state anti-discrimination laws.

 The Law School Admission Council (LSAC)  could report LSAT scores to law schools in statistically significant score bands only and not as individual scores, which would significantly decrease the possibility of misuse.

  •  Until these institutions take steps to eliminate institutional racism, minority applicants who have been denied admission should ask these questions:

  •  What is the school’s admission policy?

  • Does the school use an LSAT based admissions grid?

  • Were you denied admission according to where you fell on the grid?

  • Who reviewed your file, and what factors contributed to your denial?

  • If you had special circumstances (such as disadvantage or hardship, working during college, graduate education, first generation college, more than 10 years since college, military experience, international experience, etc.), how did those circumstances factor into the school’s decision?

  • To what extent is the school committed to diversity?  In previous years, how many students in your specific minority group applied and how many were ultimately denied?  Remember that being waitlisted is a denial if they never take you off the list.

  • Is it possible that you have been the victim of discrimination?  Don't assume that a low LSAT or a Low UGPA means that you are not qualified.

Those of us interested in a fair and equitable legal system should be very concerned!  The impact of these law school policies and practices may do more to limit minority access to the legal profession than any reversal of affirmative action.

Take action to make the law school in your area, or your alma mater, accountable:

Demand that the school has a student body that reflects the general racial diversity of the nation, and the specific racial diversity of the region.

Form a group to monitor your local or state school or your alma mater.

Ally yourself with supportive members of the law school faculty; for references contact the Society of American Law Teachers.

Protest the presumptive practice in general and any presumptive cut-off not based on a documented inability to perform well in the particular law school.

Protest any admission practice that does not provide the same full file review to all the applicants.  That review should be done by the entire admissions committee and not just by one or two admissions professionals.

Don't accept attempts to increase the number of minority students who are coming to the particular school through the use of scholarships (increasing the yield) without changes in presumptive deny policy and practice (decreasing opportunities).

Ask for data including the school's LSAC First Year Correlation Studies.

 W.W.E.B. Dubois said that “the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line.”

 That color line was overt and legally enforced.

 Here at the beginning of the 21st century, the problem of the color line continues, but now it is institutionally and structurally enforced.  In the absence of laws, policies, and practices that address institutional racism and discrimination, the problem of the color line will continue for another hundred years.

 Demand a change!

 


Endnotes

Letter Philip Shelton, President, Law School Admission Council (November 20, 2003) on file with author (Law School Admission Council is the body that develops, conducts and reports the LSAT) (pdf)
Philip Shelton, The LSAT: Good -- But Not that Good, Law Services Report, p. 2-3 (September/October 1997)(pdf)
LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study (1991)
Law School Admission Practice and LSAT, Admission Models to Assure Diversity, Fairness and Appropriate Test Use in Law School Admissions: A Publication of The Law School Admission Council 21-22 (October 1999)
LSAT Scoreband, Law School Admission Council

 

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Chapters

TWLS
2005 TWLS
01 Introduction
02 Discrimination
03 Top Ten
04 National
05 Regional
06 State
07 Isolation
08 Schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Always Under Construction!

Always Under Construction!

Last Date Website Updated:
Friday, February 24, 2006

Copyright @ 2005.
Vernellia Randall.  All Rights Reserved

 

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Professor Vernellia R. Randall
The University of Dayton School of Law
300 College Park
Dayton, OH 45469-2772

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