Law School Discussion

For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?

For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« on: March 07, 2005, 08:05:32 AM »
I am the only black person on my mother's side of the family.  One of my family members from that side of the family sent me this article in the mail.  I've got yelled about it, got sad about it, and not I'm confused as to why the hell they would send me something like this.  The even highlighted (see below) the most negative sections!

How do I respond to this without rage?  Your thoughts on the article?
_____________________________ _____________________________ ___________

For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?

Published in New York Times: February 13, 2005

NE would have thought, given the decades of ardent debate over affirmative action in higher education, that the main axes of the dispute had been established. Defenders of racial preferences say that they compensate for historical wrongs, ensure vibrant and varied campus discourse and help create minority role models and leaders. Opponents say preferences are nothing but a reverse form of discrimination that stereotypes and stigmatizes minority students.

But a recent study published in The Stanford Law Review by Richard H. Sander, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found a new way to inflame the debate. In fact, the study has ignited what may be the fiercest dispute over affirmative action since 2003, when the Supreme Court found some forms of it to be constitutional.

Professor Sander's study tests a simple, but startling, thesis: Affirmative action actually depresses the number of black lawyers, because many black students end up attending law schools that are too difficult for them, and perform badly.

If black law students were accepted to lesser law schools under race-blind admissions, Professor Sander writes, they would receive better grades and pass the bar in greater numbers. Even accounting for the many black students who could not attend any law school without affirmative action, the ultimate number of black lawyers would still increase, he concludes.

That assertion, which is based on a great deal of data, along with inference and speculation, has provoked an outpouring of written critiques from law professors, economists and social scientists. Several will be published in The Stanford Law Review's May issue.

Professor Sander, who is white, says he came to his conclusion reluctantly. He notes that he helped found a fair-housing group in Southern California and that his son is biracial. He says he "favors race-conscious strategies in principle, if they can be pragmatically justified."

His critics generally accept, and sometimes even praise, aspects of his empirical work. He shows three large gaps between black and white students: their academic credentials before entering law school, their grades in law school and their success on bar examinations.

But many critics dispute Professor Sander's assertion that the first gap - in undergraduate grades and L.S.A.T. scores - causes the next two, in law school grades and in rates of passing the bar.

The basic numbers are not in serious dispute.

Using a standard 1,000-point scale to reflect both L.S.A.T. scores and undergraduate grade-point averages, Professor Sander writes, the average black student's score was 130 to 170 points below that of the average white student.

Once at law school, the average black student gets lower grades than white students: 52 percent of black students are in the bottom 10th of their first-year law school classes, while only 8 percent are in the top half. And the grades of black students drop slightly in relative terms from the first year of law school to the third.

Black students are twice as likely as whites to fail to finish law school. Nineteen percent of the black students who started law school in 1991 had failed to graduate five years later; the corresponding figure for whites was 8 percent.

About 88 percent of all law students pass a bar exam on the first attempt; 95 percent pass eventually. For blacks, the corresponding figures are 61 percent and 78 percent.

Timothy T. Clydesdale, who teaches sociology at the College of New Jersey, says the law school environment, and not affirmative action, suppresses the grades of some law students.

"Something intrinsic to the structure or process of legal education affects the grades of all minorities," he writes in the fall issue of Law and Social Inquiry. Professor Clydesdale agrees with Professor Sander, however, that bar passage rates are determined primarily by law school grades.

Professor Sander concedes that 14 percent fewer black students would enter law school without preferences. But because more of those who do get in would get good grades at schools that are better suited to them, more would graduate, he said, yielding 8 percent more black lawyers.

The critics run their own numbers and conclude that without affirmative action, the number of black lawyers would fall anywhere from 9 percent to 35 percent.

James Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern who has followed the debate, cautioned that none of these numbers should be taken seriously.

"In the real world, too many things would change," he said in an interview.

Professor Sander's study may be most vulnerable in its assessment of the top law schools, where the vast majority of law students of all races graduate and pass the bar.

For instance, Richard O. Lempert, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said that the university's law school had found little difference between its black and white students in rates of graduation, in passing the bar or in income afterward. "We think the fact that Michigan is an elite law school has a lot to do with it," he wrote in an e-mail message. "Sander's data, though he barely mentions it, convey essentially the same story. Thus his analysis provides no case for the Harvards, Yales and Columbias of this world to abandon affirmative action."

But the situation may be different at less prestigious schools.

Ian Ayres and Richard Brooks, two Yale Law School professors who are harshly critical of other aspects of the Sander study, used its data for their own study of law schools, which showed that 41.2 percent of black law students - based on their undergraduate credentials and the law schools they attend - have less than a fifty-fifty chance of becoming lawyers. The corresponding number for whites is 0.2 percent. "For some of these people," they write in a draft critique, "the investment in law school seems riskier than getting married in Las Vegas."

"While we reject Sander's conclusion that affirmative action has reduced the number of black attorneys," Professors Ayres and Brooks write, "we are more sympathetic to his idea that there is a class of black law students who shouldn't have gone to law school."

Wherever the debate ultimately leads, said Ed Johnson, a research economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Professor Sander's overall hypothesis is a valuable step in trying to understand a complex phenomenon.

"His story does seem to fit the data pretty well," Mr. Johnson said. "That doesn't mean it's true. But it's hard to come up with an alternative explanation. In his favor, he's told a story that's at least a story."


Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2005, 08:13:45 AM »
Are you close to this family member?  It is really hard to imagine they sent the article with entirely good intentions.  This isn't something you would send to someone going to law school, especially emphasizing the sections that they did.  Maybe you should confront them with it and ask them what the purpose of sending the article was.  If they were trying to be discouraging then they should have to face up to it and if they really meant well then it might be good to explain to them why it was a bad idea.

Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2005, 08:18:04 AM »
Are you close to this family member?

Actually yes... I can't bring myself to think that they had ill intentions but how else can one take this?


Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2005, 08:20:39 AM »
Maybe it would be good to ask them about it.  If you are close to this person then it would be good to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Though, honestly, I can't see how someone could possibly think they are being helpful by sending it.  It seems offensive to me.


Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2005, 08:26:13 AM »

there's nothing to talk about.  if i were you, id tell them to go @#!* themself.


Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2005, 08:26:18 AM »
If you're close to the family member, I would venture to say that they sent it to make you aware of it. In case you hadn't seen it before, this article is really brewing up much argument in academia ... and you're (we're) going to be faced with this exact mentality when in law school. You can't fight a battle without knowing your opponent's fighting points, I suppose.


Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2005, 08:36:01 AM »
Here's what you do: (no emotions, passion, pissedoffishness needed)

Simply Find a well researched article, preferrably done by a professor (for the stamp of authenticy and authority that this presumably gives) that makes the opposite argument about A.A (Trust me, there are plenty of them out there-a quick Google search is all that is needed). 

Forward the article/articles to the family member with a quick sentence like, "There is more than one view on this".

ps I pray this thread does not degenerate.


Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2005, 09:01:29 AM »
coming from a family member that you are somewhat close to, i couldn't fathom that this was meant to be taken negatively. it was probably more like the person was reading through something and saw this and thought OMG, i have to get this to CheezWiz stat so he doesn't flunk out of law school!! i just base this off of the wacky stuff my grandma sends me all the time from the newspapers. pretty mush anything that could conceivably be connected to my situation gets clipped out of the paper and mailed to me with a brief note that says 'i saw this and i thought you might like to read it.'

but, if you are a proponent of AA and feel that this really was kind of an unacceptable thing for someone to send, i would second biting panther's advice and reply with something that shows that everything is not necessarily as cut and dry as that article makes it seem. -- this will serve the dual purpose of showing that you didn't really like what was sent and opening the sender's eyes to other opinions.


  • ****
  • 299
    • View Profile
Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2005, 01:40:32 PM »
Some of you are overlooking the most important part about any of these AA studies: They're averages. They're statistics.
Do you consider yourself average? I wouldn't worry about a study unless I thought of myself as purely average, with no control over my own destiny.

As for finding studies that contradict the facts found in the study, that'd be hard to do. It's a fact that AA allows minorities into law school that don't have the stats to get there on their own. Of course this will lead to underperformance compared to smarter, more talented students. It's like saying that students who only got into their local 4th-tier law school wouldn't do as well at Harvard compared to everyone else that got there with high numbers. Of course they wouldn't. I think AA only hurts minorities, but that's another discussion.

As for your family member, maybe they meant nothing by it and just wanted you to see an important article that was recently published. If you had any confidence in yourself, you'd brush it off and joke about it with them next time you see them. Let them know you aren't worried about it, and that you don't have any intention of trying to go to a school you're not confident that you can do well at and would be a good numbers match with. Good luck.

Re: For Blacks in Law School, Can Less Be More?
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2005, 08:53:25 PM »
Why don't you just ask them why they sent it?  I've posted that article many times on this board, and I think it is important for any student to know what they are getting themselves into.  You have no basis for assuming ill intentions without further information.