Painting Beyond the Numbers: The Art of Providing Access in Law School Admissions to Ensure Full Representation in the Profession
Law Review Article
admission criteria, incoming indicators, law school diversity, student demographics
African-American' and Mexican-American enrollment in law schools has declined sharply since 1993. Disconcertingly, this decline occurred during a time when both groups applied at a relatively constant rate, saw their numerical entry indicators increase, and saw the number of seats in law schools grow by over 3,000. This decrease in enrollment occurred because law schools place an unwarranted premium on numerical criteria to predict success in law school and increase minimum levels for qualification to improve school rankings.
By relying primarily on numerical criteria and adopting less comprehensive admission practices, law schools disregard the fact that numerical criteria are poor measures of merit and predictors of success in school and in practice. Moreover, law schools disregard the importance of students' experiences prior to law school. These experiences often enhance a student's potential for success in law practice because they reflect more than specific cognitive and practice skills, and they encompass professional skills and ethical values. Thus, by relying solely on numerical criteria, law schools disproportionately disqualify otherwise meritorious candidates from underrepresented populations and deprive the public of the opportunity to be represented by those aspiring lawyers.
Law schools can, and should, address concerns about their ranking and accreditation, as well as the anti-race-conscious legal climate, by modifying "by-the-numbers" admission decisions, and not by abandoning access admission practices. To do so, schools should shift their current paradigm in three ways. First, they need to recognize that the numbers by themselves do not accurately reflect the merit or potential for success of the underrepresented. Second, law schools need to move away from the heavily charged discourse of "affirmative-action" and "race-conscious practices.' Instead, the goal of law school admission should be to ensure that all applicants receive a fair, accurate, and holistic review, especially for those applicants whose numerical criteria are unreliable, inaccurate, or non-predictive. Finally, law schools need to broaden their pedagogy and expand their curriculum to be responsive to a more diverse student body and to better serve the profession and public.