Not so long ago, law school was a growth industry, with new schools being created and enrollments going ever higher. What a turnaround there has been over the last five years.
Enrollments of first-year students are back where they were 40 years ago. Some law schools have had to lay off some faculty members and administrators.
Could there, however, be a silver lining in the law school decline? In a recent Chronicle piece, Opportunities, “Saint Louis University law professor Aaron Taylor thinks there is.
Taylor notes that the decline in law school applications has been the greatest among whites and Asians; that is good, he argues, because it will help redress the fact that (as he sees it) Blacks and Hispanics are “woefully underrepresented” in the legal profession. While those groups are about 30 percent of the population, they account for only 8.5 percent of America’s lawyers.
This is the kind of thinking that is so common among the group of people Peter Wood dubbed “diversiphiles” in his book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. To them, any statistical disparity between racial, ethnic, social, or even gender groups is evidence of a problem that must be solved.
The question that diversiphiles, including Professor Taylor, never answer is why the group composition of workers in a field should matter to anyone who isn’t obsessed with such statistics. If you need a lawyer, your interest is in finding a very capable one; what the overall percentages of lawyers who are of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, Aleutian Islander, Native American or other descent is not a matter of concern.
Would the legal profession be better if some of the “overrepresented” white attorneys left and were replaced by attorneys whose ancestry puts them in one of the “underrepresented” groups? Would the NBA be better if there had to be enough players from each of America’s various ethnic groups so that no group would be either over- or under-represented?
Taylor argues that law schools have been using admissions policies that are not fair; too much reliance on Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate records. He believes that law schools would admit a better group of students—both more “diverse” but also more capable of legal work—if they would employ some alternative assessments that some people claim are superior predictors of legal competence.
If Professor Taylor can convince law school administrators to change their admission criteria, that’s fine. I doubt that it would lead to any marginal improvement in the competence of lawyers, who have very strong incentives to maximize their effectiveness. But if it did lead to any improvement, that would have nothing to do with the racial composition of the legal profession.
George Leef is director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.