Wednesday, October 5, 2011
The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to uncover and explore some of the basic facts about socioeconomic diversity in law schools, and second, to compare racial and “class” diversity as objectives that law schools should pursue. While the available data is not perfect, it is detailed enough to make possible several robust conclusions:
- The vast majority of American law students come from relatively elite backgrounds; this is especially true at the most prestigious law schools, where only 5% percent of all students come from families whose [low socioeconomic students (SES)] is in the bottom half of the national distribution.
- The degree of SES eliteness across law schools is very similar in recent surveys (from the 1990s and early 2000s) as it was in surveys from the early 1960s. Although racial diversity has increased sharply during the intervening decades, the great majority of non-white law students are, like whites, from relatively elite backgrounds.
- Both racial minorities and non-elite classes are underrepresented when we compare law school enrollments to the general population. But blacks and Hispanics are numerically well-represented in law schools compared to the general pool of college graduates. This is not true of low- and moderate- SES college graduates.
- Law school admission policies use very large and relatively mechanical racial preferences, but appear to generally ignore SES considerations. Some law school policies militate against the admission of low- and moderate-SES applicants. Even in awarding grants and scholarships, law schools apparently generally ignore need; low-SES whites receive half as much scholarship aid as do high-SES whites.
- Policies implemented by both law schools and undergraduate colleges have shown that class-based preferences are feasible and effective in creating diversity, and they involve much smaller academic costs than do racial preferences.
- Richard Lempert (Michigan), Reflections on Class in American Legal Education, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 683 (2011)
- Richard D. Kahlenberg (The Century Foundation), Reflections on Richard Sander’s Class in American Legal Education, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 719 (2011)
- Deborah C. Malamud (NYU), Class Privilege in Legal Education: A Response to Sander, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 729 (2011)
- Deirdre M. Bowen (Seattle), Meeting Across the River: Why Affirmative Action Needs Race & Class Diversity, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 751 (2011)
- Daniel Kiel (Memphis), An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: Reframing the Debate about Law School Affirmative Action, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 791 (2011)
- Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Iowa) & Amber Fricke (Iowa), Class, Classes, and Classic Race-Baiting: What’s in a Definition?, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 807 (2011)
- Arin N. Reeves (Nextions), Race as a Red Herring? The Logical Irrelevance of the Race vs. Class Debate, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 835 (2011)
- Danielle Holley-Walker (South Carolina), Race and Socioeconomic Diversity in American Legal Education: A Response to Richard Sander, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 845 (2011)
- L. Darnell Weeden (Texas Southern), Commentary on Professor Richard Sander’s Class in American Legal Education, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 851 (2011)
- Eli Wald (Denver), The Visibility of Socioeconomic Status and Class-Based Affirmative Action: A Reply to Professor Sander, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 861 (2011)
Press and blogosphere coverage:
- ABA Journal, Study Finds ‘Lopsided’ Concentration of Socioeconomic Elites at Law Schools
- ABA Journal Question of the Week, How Would You Change Your Law School’s Admission Policies?
- Above the Law, Start Socioeconomic Affirmative Action Now
- Chronicle of Higher Education, Economic Segregation in American Law Schools