Panel Suggests Ways to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Law Schools

March 28, 2011

Although black and Mexican-American students have applied to law school at steady rates since the early 1990s, their representation in law schools has decreased over the past 15 years.

The proportion of black students in law school dropped by 7.5 percent from 1993 to 2008, reports Columbia Law School, which examined data from the Law School Admission Council. The proportion of Mexican-American students decreased by 11.7 percent over the same period. Together those students' enrollment went from 9.5 percent of the incoming class in 1993 to 8.7 percent in 2008.

The actual number of black and Mexican-American students also dropped, even as the size of first-year law classes increased by nearly 3,000 seats across the nation from 1993 to 2008.

Those findings were at the center of a panel discussion sponsored by Catholic University's law school on March 25. Panelists discussed the role of law schools in increasing their proportions of black and Mexican-American law students.

"Our profession is among the least diverse in the country," said Conrad A. Johnson, a panelist and a clinical professor of law at Columbia. "If we maintain the current status quo, ... we will find ourselves falling further and further behind if our goal is to obtain parity with the general population."

The panel discussed ways to reverse the trend, which included collaborations with high schools to reach black and Mexican-American students earlier and encouraging such students to take two years between finishing an undergraduate degree and beginning law school. Working during that two-year gap could help strengthen their law-school applications, said Renee Y. DeVigne, associate dean for student affairs and a lecturer at the George Washington University Law School.

"The two years [have] to be filled appropriately," she said. "Working at Starbucks, maybe not. But something that is filled substantively in the two-year period to prepare you for law school."