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April 06, 2011


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Really? Historically Black Law Schools are mainly white in terms of student populations? That's a big surprise. Does that potentially point to a failing to promote the legal profession within the African American community? Or does it just mean that black/African American students can get a better legal education elsewhere?

Alfred Brophy


I don't know as the decline in percentage of African American students at historically black law schools is evidence about a failing within the African American community. That certainly wouldn't be a hypothesis that I'd think likely. A more likely hypothesis is that historically black law schools are offering a quality education at a reasonable price and so are attracting majority students. North Carolina Central, for instance, has some of the lowest tuition of any law school in the country. So a lot of majority students want to go there, because they get an excellent education at a reasonable price.

Moreover, Rosin points out that if the ABA raises the percentage of the graduates who must pass the bar on the first try to at least ten percent of the jurisdiction's first time bar pass rate (or 80% bar pass rate overall), that will burden historically black schools disproportionately. This will foreclose the opportunity for many students to prove themselves in law school.

I hope to talk about this some more when I have more time. Right now I'd also like to call attention to the Standards Review Committee's draft proposal, which was considered at the April meeting last weekend, to remove the requirement that law faculty have tenure.

David Bernstein

Al, "This will foreclose the opportunity for many students to prove themselves in law school."

This will also avoid a situation in which students who have LSATs that suggest that they are unlikely to pass the bar don't waste three years and tens of thousands of dollars attending law school. I'm all for abolishing the mandatory bar exam, but so long as it exists, law schools have AT LEAST a responsibility to warn prospective students with low LSATs that their LSAT scores suggest a poor likelihood of ever becoming lawyers, and perhaps to not matriculate such students to begin with.

Put another way, everyone concerned with this issue should ask this question: "what ratio of failures to successes for low LSAT students is acceptable to achieve the goal of increasing the number of African American lawyers." .2 to 1? .5 to 1? 1 to 1? 2 to 1? And why?

Alfred Brophy

Hi David,

Thanks for joining the conversation. One of the many important findings of Gary's paper is that even students with what seem to me like pretty low LSAT scores go on to pass the bar -- and I would have thought that you of all people would be interested in allowing applicants to prove themselves (assuming they were fully informed of the risks). Now I see that you're against a mandatory bar exam? So regulate law schools but not admissions to the bar?!

Another of Gary's findings is that a lot of students whose LSAT scores suggest that they are bar failure risks will still pass the bar at well above 50% on the first try, so I think the rule will deprive a lot of people who've got the talent and the drive to be successful at the bar an opportunity.

I'd like to point out that this is not just a race issue; this rule threatens a lot of law schools, especially in California.

David Bernstein

Al, I'm a bit hampered by my inability to translate the old 48 scale relied upon in the article into the current scale. But it was clear to me from the piece that below a certain LSAT score, the odds of one passing the bar rapidly diminished.

I'm inclined to agree that such students should be given a chance, but only if they are apprised of the risks. And I also think it would be incredibly foolish for someone (of any race) who could otherwise pursue a career in teaching, nursing, business, or what-have-you to go to law school if their LSAT score suggests a poor chance of passing the bar. (It's also worth noting that the article should, but does not, account for students who fail out. If one is estimating one's chances of ultimately becoming a lawyer, one needs to know the likelihood of both graduating law school AND then passing the bar. IIRC, according to Derek Bok, something like 42% of African American law students don't make it past both barriers, and at some schools it's a lot more than that (and others a lot less). I think it's a great goal to get more A-A attorneys, but not if the price is committing educational fraud against an even larger number who don't make it past the bar.

Sarah L.

David, just to translate the numbers: The LSAT mean in the LSAC study from which Prof. Rosin draws his data was 36.8, with a standard deviation of 5.5. On the current scale, the mean is around 150, with a standard deviation of around 10. On Prof. Rosin's chart, I see a drop-off in a bar passage rate around 30, which is a little more than one standard deviation below the mean--so I think this would translate into roughly 138 on today's scale.

LSAC study: (see note 35)
Current scale info: (see p. 6)

Alfred Brophy

I've been away from the internet since Thursday afternoon, which explains my silence here.

First, thank you Sarah L., for that helpful discussion.

Second, I'm in complete agreement with David's statement that prospective students should know the likelihood of success on the bar. What I'm not sure about is your basis for saying that at some schools a lot more than 42% of (I'm guessing this is entering) African American students fail to graduate and pass the bar.

Third, I'd like to point out again that this is not solely an issue of race. I'm concerned about the standards committee's proposal to raise the targets of bar admissions because it will foreclose opportunities for all applicants whose LSAT score predicts a first time bar pass rate that's much below the jurisdiction's bar pass rate minus 10%.


Law professors are hilarious sometimes: in case you haven't noticed, the market is saturated with law school graduates (many of whom have passed the bar exam) who cannot find work. But heaven forbid that the ABA do something to reduce law schools' ability to enroll and graduate marginal students.

Bottom line: If you can't get the requisite LSAT score and you have your heart set on law school, take a Kaplan prep course. If that doesn't work after a few tries, you're still waaaay better off than if you'd gone to some bottom-feeding law school for three years only to find out that you're too stupid to pass the bar.

Alfred Brophy


I find nothing about this discussion funny. I certainly know that the market is very bad for entry-level lawyers. Believe me, I understand this. Some of what the standards review committee is doing, however, points towards reducing the cost of law school and thus perhaps adding even more entry-level lawyers. (That is, the ABA is behaving inconsistently with your self-interested position of reducing competition.) I'm all in favor of reducing costs. I point this out just to make clear that the ABA is not only concerned with erecting more barriers to entry to the profession, nor should it be.

I would like to make one other point: people who go to what you contemptuously call "some bottom-feeding law school" very frequently go on to pass the bar, as Rosin shows, and go on to have successful and meaningful careers. Just as I'm in favor of changes to make legal education more affordable, I'm also in favor of making it available to people who aspire to a career in law and who're willing to give it a try, even once they know the risks of their undertaking.

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