Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 17, 2023

Sander: Law-School 'Mismatch' Is Worse Than We Thought

Richard Sander (UCLA), Law-School “Mismatch” Is Worse Than We Thought:

With the Supreme Court poised to rule on affirmative-action in admissions, the time to spread the word is now.

Eighteen years ago, I published an article in the Stanford Law Review which documented for the first time the enormous breadth and scale of race-based admissions preferences in law schools [A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools, 57 Stan. L. Rev. 367 (2004)]. At most law schools, the undergraduate grades (UGPA) and median LSAT scores of enrolled Black students were two standard deviations below those of white students at the same school. Outside of a handful of “Historically Black” institutions (where racial preferences were minimal), Blacks in law school were not faring well. They were failing out of school at more than twice the white rate; half of those who did graduate had grades in the bottom 10th of their class; and Blacks were six times as likely as whites to take the bar exam multiple times but never pass. ...

Robert Steinbuch (a colleague at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock) and I eventually secured the public release of data from 12 cohorts of law students at four law schools, covering about 6,500 students in all. And after a multi-year review process, the Journal of Legal Education—the official organ of the Association of American Law Schools—has now agreed to publish the first set of our results in its next issue.

Our findings are even stronger than we expected. A student’s degree of mismatch in law school is by far the strongest predictor of whether he or she will pass a bar exam on a first attempt. ...

Most of our results are in regression analyses that can be hard for those without a technical background to interpret. But one of our tables, reproduced below, makes the basic pattern clear. It shows first-time bar-passage rates for several thousand law graduates, grouped by their LSAT score and whether they attended an elite, somewhat-elite, or non-elite law school. Unsurprisingly, students with high LSAT scores had high bar-passage rates at all schools and did particularly well at the elite school in question. But students at the elite school with LSAT scores 12 to 14 points below the median of their fellow students (i.e., LSAT scores of 150-152) had only a 22 percent first-time bar-passage rate, while students with the same LSAT score at the non-elite school in question had a 79 percent first-time bar-passage rate. In other words, lower mismatch translates into dramatically better performance.


David Bernstein (George Mason; Google Scholar), New Law School "Mismatch" Data from UCLA Lawprof Richard Sander:

I wrote an oped on a related subject almost twenty years ago, and I heard from several law school deans and administrators (none of whom wanted their names or schools identified, naturally). Each of them told me that there was a "cutoff," known at their law school, below which the odds of student bar passage plummet. You can see this effect in the mid-150s at UCLA, the low 150s at UC Davis, and the mid-140s at UA Little Rock.

They added that if they resisted accepting URM students with LSATs below that threshold, the ABA accreditation people threatened them with being placed on probation for having an insufficiently diverse student body–even though ABA rules required law schools not to admit students that they thought would not succeed academically.

In other words, the ABA prohibited them from taking white or Asian students with LSATs below a certain threshold, knowing that those students were unlikely to become lawyers, but required them to admit at least some Black or Hispanic students with those scores. Worse yet, no one informed the students admitted with those LSATs that their odds of ultimately passing the bar were low. 

ABA Journal, Data on About 6,500 Law Students Proves My Mismatch Theory, Shows Racial-Preference Harm, Law Prof Says:

A controversial law professor has said data on about 6,500 law students at four law schools provides strong support for his “academic mismatch” theory—that law students with lower qualifications than their peers fall behind and have worse outcomes in a learning environment geared toward better-qualified students.

George Leef (National Review), Another of the Adverse Effects of the Diversity Mania:

[H]ere’s another reason to hope that the Supreme Court finally rules against racial preferences in college and university admissions. It would help minority students better succeed in law school (and elsewhere).

And how about the impact of a Court ruling against racial preferences? Sander offers his thoughts:

If it does, universities may dramatically reduce the size of current preferences. But they may, instead, deemphasize traditional measures of academic ability (like the LSAT) in favor of highly subjective factors (like essays) that allow them to continue to use preferences under the radar. Or they may simply ignore the Court, as many law schools have ignored state-level bans on racial preferences. What we can be sure of is that university leaders will be talking with one another and with their admissions officers. A clear showing of the enormous harm done by large preferences could help steer them to the straight and narrow.

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