21st February 2024
  • 19% of attorneys in the U.S. are minorities, compared with 40% of overall population
  • Declines in minority undergraduates expected to hamper law school diversity

June 29 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that sharply curtailed considerations of race in university admissions will hamper decades-long efforts to bolster diversity in the legal profession, law school administrators and other industry experts said.

If colleges and universities admit fewer minority students following the Supreme Court’s decision, law schools will struggle to keep up their diversity numbers, which in turn will mean fewer diverse lawyers, said Law School Admission Council President Kellye Testy.

“All of us in legal education, at bar associations, and in practice are going to have to redouble efforts to make sure the entire pre-law to practice pipeline is better,” Testy said. The Law School Admission Council administers the LSAT—the predominant test used in law school admissions.

The Supreme Court ruled that admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that take an applicant’s race into account violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Applicants may discuss their race in personal statements, but schools cannot make admissions decisions based on race, the majority ruled.

In light of the ruling, Testy said law schools will need to take further steps to evaluate applicants’ unique experiences along with their test scores and grades. And they must step up their efforts to recruit and enroll minority students, mirroring the efforts of law schools in states that already prohibit considering race in admissions, she added.

Students for Fair Admissions, the group that sued Harvard and the University of North Carolina, called the ruling the “beginning of the restoration of the colorblind legal covenant that binds together our multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation.” It had argued that race-conscious admissions policies discriminate against Asian Americans by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American applicants.

Aaron Taylor, executive director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education, which advocates for law school access and affordability, said that Thursday’s decision “deprives schools of one of the most effective tools for fostering student diversity.”

Taylor said that affirmative action has created pathways into elite legal institutions for groups traditionally excluded by the profession.

And a shortfall of lawyers of color perpetuates a “cycle of inequality in all aspects of the justice system,” said Boston University law dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig.

Affirmative action has been credited with helping law schools’ efforts to bring in more minority students, alongside pipeline programs and recruiting at diverse colleges. Nearly 37% of 2022’s first-year law students were racial or ethnic minorities, up from 28% a decade ago, according to American Bar Association data.

A study by AccessLex found that affirmative action bans at the state level, including California and Michigan, led to an average 5% decrease in law degrees awarded to students of color.

Seattle University School of Law Dean Anthony Varona said that affirmative action programs have helped improve diversity within the larger legal industry.

Despite those improvements, diversity in the legal profession lags far behind the overall U.S. population and other professions. ABA data shows that 19% of the country’s lawyers are people of color, up from 11% in 2010, while the overall U.S. minority population—including Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents—is now 40%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By comparison, 36% of physicians are minorities, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, and 30% of dentists are minorities, according to the American Dental Association.

“This [Supreme Court decision] is another headwind that, frankly, we didn’t need,” Testy said.

Read more:

US Supreme Court rejects affirmative action in university admissions

Post-affirmative action, these law schools may provide path for others

Reporting by Karen Sloan; editing by Leigh Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at [email protected]