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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sander: Class in American Legal Education

Richard H. Sander (UCLA), Class in American Legal Education, 88 Denv. U.L. Rev. 631 (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.


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One more reason to teach law alongside honest trades, like diesel mechanics, in community colleges. A two year program focused on procedure and ethics should be enough to qualify the student for the Bar Exam.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Oct 6, 2011 7:56:58 PM