Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ABA Encourages Law School Shell Game: Minority 2L Transfers Count For Diversity Purposes, Not For U.S. News Rankings

Diversity (2)National Law Journal op-ed:   Law Schools' Shell Game of Minority Enrollment: Admitting Diverse Students as Transfers in their Second Year Does Not Improve Overall Numbers, by Jay Sterling Silver (St. Thomas (Florida)):

Here we go again. Although law schools no longer can give prospective students misleading data on graduate employment, some are creating the illusion they're doing more to expand minority representation in the profession than they really are, and many are clinging to their ranking in U.S. News & World Report through smoke and mirrors.

Minorities are severely underrepresented in the legal profession. To encourage progress in this regard, the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, requires each school to disclose the number of minorities enrolled and to make an effort to expand minority entry into the profession. While the number of African-American and Latino students reported by many schools may look like progress, it often isn't. ...

It is not a terribly well-kept secret that many upper-tier schools or aspiring upper-tier schools will take no chances at all on their entering classes and then will raid places like here for students of color who have done well and give them lots of money and take them in. Then they can report that their overall student population has diversity even though their first-year class looks very white.

But why? It's simple. As a group, the LSAT scores of minority students are lower than nonminority students. In a gaping and opportunistic loophole, the ABA requires law schools to report the racial makeup of the student body as a whole, but only the LSAT scores of first-year students. Neither the race nor the LSATs of transfer students must be disclosed. Admitting more minority students after the first year thus kills two birds with one stone: It inflates the number of minorities enrolled at the school while, at the same time, preserving the school's all-important, LSAT-related ranking in U.S. News. ...

Nonminority transfer students also, as a rule, have lower LSAT scores than first-year students at the higher-ranked schools they normally transfer to. With today's depleted applicant pool, the reporting loophole thus incentivizes schools to load up on nonminority transfers as well. The new school boosts its revenues with no fear of an LSAT-related drop in the rankings.

Elite schools — two of which ushered in transfers last year roughly equal in number to one-fifth of their first-year class — are hardly exempt from the temptation. ...

Many schools, not content to wait for transfer applications to show up in the mail, aggressively recruit transfers. And often it's not pretty. At some schools, administrators write and phone students on the dean's list at neighboring law schools, sometimes disparaging the students' current school. But perhaps the seamiest ploy of all was a recent dinner party thrown by a law dean who implored his guests, almost all of whom were minority students who'd done well at another school, to transfer and to convince their classmates to do so as well.

Legal Education | Permalink


Looks like U.S. News needs a new diversity measure. :)

Posted by: Jack | Aug 28, 2015 10:35:34 AM

My dear anon,

You've misread my comment entirely. I was talking about the proclivities of employers, not students. Law firms, clerkships, the feds, etc. If you like, I can point you towards recent job listings in Massachusetts for lawyers with >10 years' experience that STILL require a Top 25 law school degree.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 27, 2015 9:23:14 PM

Maybe because rankings-obessed students, alumni, and commentators (on this blog and elsewhere) who continue to assert that all that matters is a school's US News ranking provide an incentive for this behavior?

See, e.g., the first comment:

Posted by: anon | Aug 27, 2015 1:26:12 PM

There is a counter-vailing rankings consideration to this strategy, however. The school accepting the transfers has to live with the bar passage rates of those students, which in all likelihood will drag down the school's overall bar passage rate if the transfers' credentials are significantly below those of first years.

Posted by: lawdean | Aug 27, 2015 1:16:32 PM

Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. I know the incentives and metrics at work here, but why do law schools continue to be so afraid of truth in disclosure. A nontrivial percentage of the law-interested public views law schools as cartoonishly evil. This is not a good way to reverse those thoughts.

Posted by: Jojo | Aug 27, 2015 12:11:21 PM