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

Emphasis on LSAT Scores Hurts Black Applicants
Chapter 2: L.S.A.T., Rankings, Law School Admissions and Traditionally Discriminated Against Racial Groups

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(Based on 2004 ABA/LSAC Information)

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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

   
   

 


 

 

 

 
 

Law Schools' Emphasis on LSAT Scores Hurts Black Applicants, Report Says
KATHERINE S. MANGAN

In an effort to raise their U.S. News & World Report rankings and avoid trouble with accreditors, law-school admissions officers are overemphasizing standardized-test scores and thereby discriminating against African-American applicants whose scores, on average, are lower than those of their white peers, according to a report due out next month.

As a result, the number of African-American students applying to, enrolling in, and graduating from law schools continues to decline, even as the overall figures have remained fairly steady, according to the report's author, John Nussbaumer, an associate dean at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, in Michigan.

"Efforts during the past 10 years to diversify America's law schools by enrolling more African-American students have failed because those responsible for law-school admissions and accreditation practices have created a de facto and racially discriminatory quota system that restricts African-American access to the legal profession," he writes.

Mr. Nussbaumer serves on the Diversity Committee of the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits law schools. He is also in the Law Professors Division of the National Bar Association, which was founded by African-American lawyers in an era when they were barred from the ABA.

The article, "Misuse of the Law School Admission Test: Racial Discrimination, and the De Facto Quota System for Restricting African-American Access to the Legal Profession," is scheduled for publication next month in the St. John's Law Review, a publication of the St. John's University School of Law, in Jamaica, N.Y.

In the article, Mr. Nussbaumer charges that many law schools use an applicant's performance on the Law School Admission Test as the main factor in admissions decisions in order to improve their U.S. News rankings. Admitted students' average test scores are one of the factors the newsmagazine weighs in creating its annual list of the nation's best law schools.

For law schools to rely so heavily on the test score, Mr. Nussbaumer says, defies the guidelines of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the test. Its guidelines say the test "should be used as only one of several criteria for evaluation and should not be given undue weight solely because its use is convenient." The council also discourages law schools from setting cutoff scores for admission, which "may have a greater adverse impact upon applicants from minority groups than upon the general applicant population."

John A. Sebert, a consultant on legal education for the American Bar Association, said accreditors have reason to be concerned when law schools accept many students with low test scores.

"It's sort of a consumer-protection issue," he said on Monday. "We want to be sure that law schools aren't admitting a substantial number of students who are unlikely to be successful in their program or in their attempts to pass the bar."

If schools admit large numbers of "at risk" students but offer adequate academic support, they may still satisfy accreditors, he said. "If they have low attrition rates and bar-passage rates that are within the norm of ABA schools in their jurisdiction, they're not going to get in trouble with their accreditors."

The ABA's legal-education section approved a rule this month aimed at ensuring that law schools take concrete steps to diversify their student bodies and faculties. The new rule, which must be approved by the ABA's House of Delegates in order to take effect, applies even to law schools in states that ban racial preferences in admission ( The Chronicle, February 14).

Black residents make up about 13 percent of the American population, but in 2004 they accounted for only 6.8 percent of law students, according to the bar association. The pipeline isn't encouraging. The Law School Admission Council's preliminary data for students who enrolled last fall showed that while the total number of applicants for the year fell by 4.6 percent, the drop among black students was almost twice as high -- 8.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of African-American students graduating from law schools showed similar declines from 1998 to 2004, Mr. Nussbaumer said in the article. While the overall number of law degrees inched up 1.4 percent during that time, the degrees awarded to African-American students dropped 7.6 percent.

The fall in the number of black students applying to, enrolling in, and graduating from law schools is a "triple downward spiral" that demonstrates that "American legal education is moving backwards, not forwards, in providing access to law school for African-American students," he writes.

Mr. Nussbaumer says accreditors pressure law schools to limit the number of students they accept with LSAT scores of less than 141 out of a possible 180. That "de facto cutoff score" effectively closes the door to many black applicants, since their mean score is around 143 to 144, he argues.

Law schools contend that admitting many students with low test scores would jeopardize academic quality. Mr. Nussbaumer says that such a link has not been proved.

"No published study has demonstrated that this unwritten but regularly enforced LSAT cutoff is a statistically valid and reliable predictor of academic success," he writes, "particularly when low-scoring students are offered structured academic-support programs."

Robert J. Morse, director of data analysis for U.S. News & World Report, was unavailable for comment Monday, but he told The Wall Street Journal that his magazine was not responsible for the law-school test's being required for admission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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