Shut Out: Despite an Increase in Capacity, Law Schools Have Been Admitting Fewer African-American and Mexican American Students over the Last 15 Years

Article excerpt

As director of the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at the Columbia University Law School, law professor Conrad lohnson knows that digital technology has the power to highlight and amplify social justice concerns and to enable people to take direct action. Under his leadership, the clinic has developed and maintained the Columbia-hosted Web site entitled "A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity," which highlights more than a decade of declining to stagnant African-American and Mexican American enrollment at U.S. law schools.

"What we tried to do in this study is something we haven't seen done very often (and that) is to measure the trends of inclusivehess in the context of the capacity of law schools to take in students, which has increased by 10 percent over the last 15 years," Jolmson says.

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The Web site features 12 graphs taken from Law School Admission Council (LSAC) data showing how first-year African-American and Mexican American enrollment has declined 8.6 percent, from a total of 3,937 in 1992 to 3,595 in 2005. The Web site notes that in 1992 there were 176 accredited U.S. law schools and by 2006 that total had increased to 195 accredited schools, offering a gain of nearly 4,000 first-year seats for law school students. It's also shown that while African-American and Mexican American applicants have endured falling admissions rates, their undergraduate grade point averages and Law School Admission Test scores have improved during the same period.

"Instead of measuring this year against last year, we decided to say 'let's look at 15 years and let's look at LSAT scores, GPAs and capacities of law schools to take in new students,' and I think that's going to be particularly important to continue to monitor the fuller picture as opposed to a small slice of the picture," Johnson notes.

More recently, the American Bar Association has reported that first-year African-American law school enrollment went from 3,107 in 2005-2006 to 3,516 in 20062007 and tell to 3,486 in 2007 2008. First-year Mexican American law school enrolhnent went from 851 in 2005-2006 to 915 in 2006-2007 and fell to 888 in 2007-2008.

While it's notable that overall racial diversity has increased with growing numbers of Asian Americans and some Hispanics excluding Mexican Americans gaining admission to law schools, diversity advocates, such as Johnson, are making it known that AfricanAmerican and Mexican American admissions rates have fallen consistently since the 1990s.

A 'Disturbing Trend'

"The stats are pretty clear that we're making no progress. There's no way to put a nice face on it. The first statistic of note is that African-American enrollment peaked in 1995-1996 at the American Bar Association-approved law schools; that was the high water mark. For 12 consecutive years since then, African-American enrollment has fallen short of that mark, and what's really disturbing is that during the same period of time 20 new law schools were created," says John Nussbaumer, the associate dean of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Nussbaumer has presented ABA data at meetings showing that from 2002 to 2007, 62 percent of African-American and 4 percent of Mexican American applicants to law school failed to gain admission to any ABA-approved institution while just 34 percent of 363,360 White applicants were I turned away from all the schools to which they applied. Johnson notes that a growing coalition of individuals, such as Nussbaumer and himself, and organizations, such as the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) and the National Bar Association, an African-American legal organization, are collaborating to reverse the slide of African-American and Mexican American law school enrollment. The SALT organization collaborated with Johnson's Columbia law school clinic to help produce and publicize the "Disturbing Trend" Web site at www2. …