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The blame game for diversity percentage shame

In my last post, I encapsulated the 2011 debate regarding the maintenance of minorities within law firms. It was a grim picture with depressing numbers.

After the recession in 2008, it appeared law firms planned to overhaul longstanding systems, such as lockstep and summer associate programs. However, as we find ourselves on the doorstep of 2012, diversity programs have not seemed to be successful in increasing the diversity numbers within law firms.

This is not an issue specific to law firms, though. The percentage of minority lawyers compared to the overall lawyer population has hovered around 10 percent for almost a decade. In a conference hosted by the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), the consensus by law deans, admissions officers and pre-law counselors is counselors and admissions officers need to do a better job of identifying promising minority applicants, guiding them through the often intimidating application process and ensuring they graduate.

More pipeline programs need to be developed as part of the solution so pre-law advising can bridge the racial gap at law schools by supporting minority students in their efforts to gain admission to law schools. While most law school applicants kill themselves trying to gain acceptance into institutions at the top of the U.S. News & World Report rankings, these pipeline programs can also help minority students identify other law schools that could be more in tune with their professional goals post-graduation.

One continuing problem, in fact, with achieving success in pushing minority students into law programs in which they will succeed is the looming effects of the U.S. News & World Report rankings and its emphasis on LSAT scores.

Minority test-takers score lower on the LSAT than their white counterparts, according to LSAC. The average score for whites is 153, compared with 142 for blacks and 146 for Hispanics. This creates a domino effect: black applicants had a shutout rate of 60 percent between 2000 and 2009, meaning that most black applicants were not accepted into any law school to which they applied. The shutout figure for Mexican Americans was 42 percent. For whites, it was 31 percent.

While some statistics will report that the overall percentage of minorities in law schools has slowly increased during the past 15 years (to 22 percent), a closer look reveals that much of that gain can be attributed to rising numbers of Asian and most categories of Latino law students. When all is said and done, the numbers of blacks and Mexican-Americans are decreasing within that 22 percent “pie piece.”

These issues have been discussed in the context of affirmative action and stirred up long debates as to what benefits certain minority groups should receive to assist their success in education. What are your thoughts? Are the arguments the same? What could be done specifically to law school admissions and support of minority attorney success? Do minority groups blame themselves, or blame the system? What is fair?