The Education of Black Lawyers: Developing a Pipeline for the Future
diversity pathway programs, student demographics, law school diversity
Among the innumerable challenges facing law schools today, perhaps none of them are more challenging to the advancement of the black bar than the pipeline problem facing black law students. Coinciding with the recent dip in overall student enrollment, law schools increasingly find themselves competing for the same small group of black applicants. Moreover, once black students are admitted, on top of undergoing the already extraordinary challenge of law school, they often discover that few of their peers share or understand their experience, which risks leading to a harmful isolation and therein potentially impacting performance and future prospects. And beyond graduation, as the lead story notes, black lawyers are not achieving success at rates comparable with the size of the black bar—whether its earning partnership or high positions of authority—while many opt to leave the profession at disproportionally high rates.
Solving these issues requires, of course, a multipronged approach, but part of the solution requires interventions at the law school level. How do law schools get more black applicants to matriculate? How do law schools ensure black law students are getting what they need from their J.D. programs and graduating? And how do law schools prepare these future black lawyers to not just get hired but also advance in their legal careers? There is a pipeline that leads to law school, through law school, and to a successful career in the legal profession. The future health of the black bar depends on law schools’ ability to enable black law students to not only locate the schools but also make it out the other side. The following sections offer perspective on these issues.