Race and Ethnicity

There is no single model for "minority" admissions. Admissions officers will pay special attention to a number of different factors, including:

  • predictive ability of the LSAT;
  • adversity overcome;
  • fluency in English;
  • job opportunities available to the group;
  • availability of lawyers of their ethnicity to serve their ethnic population.
  • The political constituency and political power of minority groups in their area of geographic interest.
    • Thus, Florida may care more about Cubans, while California and Texas may care more about Mexican-Americans and the New York area may care more about Puerto Ricans.
I will try to address how these factors affect typical members of several different ethnic groups. However, if your personal background does not reflect the general socioeconomic and cultural situation for your group, the burden is on you to show this to the admissions committee, in either your diversity statement or your personal statement.

Knowing Where to Apply

The information below is a generalization of highly individualized information. It varies by regional representation of racial groups, by individual schools' philosophies, and by legal decisions -- from courts, legislatures, and executive orders -- that affect admissions policies. For this reason, every member of a minority group needs to apply to a larger number of schools, or needs expert advice in choosing schools. If you genuinely cannot afford to apply to many schools, you may be eligible for fee waivers.

Affirmative action has been seriously curtailed since the late 1990s. Despite the Supreme Court's endorsement of race as a factor in the admissions process, racist agitators masquerading as freedom fighters, like Roger Clegg, are pressuring law schools to either drop minority enrichment programs or to force a deep silence about such programs.  Applicants (and parents of applicants) are blindly mouthing words about "unqualified minorities" without having ever looked at the reality of minority admissions.

As most of you know by now, the Supreme Court supported the use of race in law school admissions.  The two most important points in the extensive decision are:

  • Bakke is still the law of the land: and
  • Diversity is a valid goal in selecting participants in educational programs.
I asked a Michigan-based client what the local scoop was, and the answer was twofold:

1. We don't want unqualified professionals; and

2. White males are being disadvantaged.  

In response, I decided to engage in my favorite reality-testing exercise: I number-crunched. I decided not to put the numbers themselves up here, but I learned quite a lot:

  • I started by looking at who actually fills the seats at all the law schools in the ABA book.  I took the reports of race and gender for 182 ABA-approved law schools, threw them into an Excel spreadsheet, and this is what I saw:
    • Overall, 51% of all law students are male, 42% are white males, and 78% are white.  At the top 25 and the top 50 (I did two separate calculations), 41% are white males, 52% are male.
    • At 40 schools, more than half of all students are white males.  
    • At 133 schools, more than half the students are male.
  • Next, I did a rough sort by region of the country.  (Click here for my regional definitions)
  • Here's what I saw:
    • In the Northeast, only 40% of all law students are white male, 50% male.  76% are white.
    • In both the midwest and the Rockies, 46% of all students are white males, and 53% are male.  83% are white.
    • In the south, 44% are white males, 53% are male, but only 78% are white.  This must mean that women of color either apply in greater percentages than white women or outperform them on the standard indicators that law schools consider.  (Anecdotal evidence and statistical data support both claims as regards college students, but I know of no studies of law school applicants that give breakdowns by both race and gender.)
    • Only on the west coast are white males enrolled in noticeably low proportions.  Only 35% of all law students in the west are white males; only 49% are male; and only 69% are white.  One should note, of course, that the majority of west coast minorities are Asian, who in fact are discriminated against (see below).  
  • In deciding whether these results are "reasonable," I looked at applicant pool data published by Law Services.  This data shows applicants to all law schools collectively, not data about individual schools.  Here's what I learned:
    • Whites are taken in overwhelmingly high numbers; 74% of all white applicants are admitted to law school. 

    • Only 68% of Asians are accepted, even though their median gpa and LSAT are higher than those for Caucasians.  Comparing individual grid boxes (e.g., 3.25-3.49, 160-164), Asians are accepted in lower percentages than their white peers in virtually every box at or above the national medians.


    • The "traditional" minorities (Black, Chicano and Puerto Rican) are taken at rates lower than 50%.  
    • Women are also slightly disadvantaged.  Although 51% of all applicants are women, 51% of all those accepted and enrolled are men.  

Now, as to the "we don't want unqualified minorities" line, I would assume we don't want unqualified white folk, either.  Yet a number of admissions officers have told me that the rock bottom lowest numbers they took are not for minorities, but for children of wealthy alumni donors.  I guess rich counts as qualified, huh? 

Please feel free to quote me on this.

While cleaning out some ancient files, I came across an article written by Fran Lebowitz for Vanity Fair in 1997. I have written for permission to post it here, and have received no answer. I've decided that until such time as I get a "yae" or "nae," I'll share it with you.

The Un-Level Playing Field

Fran Lebowitz isn't the only person to notice the amount of racism still plaguing the United States, especially the Old South.  The April, 2010 controversy over Virginia's celebrating its history without reference to slavery was so intense that I'm only adding one link, intended to be unbiased, by NPR.  I had considered retiring my own diatribe against racism, posted on MLK Day, but the Virginian stance compels me to keep it posted.  So the report on Confederates in the Attic and the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have been linked here.

Multiracial Applicants

Since about 2000, I have had a much higher number of multiracial clients.  This may in part be due to my move from North Carolina to Seattle, but not entirely, since my clients come from all over the country. (In 2005, my five multiracial clients hailed from Arizona, Maryland, Nebraska and Virginia, as well as locally.)

How does being multiracial affect your application?   

First, there's the difficult question of which box to check.  If a school lets you identify only one racial category, check the box that indicates the most disadvantaged group:  Native American or Black first (but see my note on "real" Native Americans above), Puerto Rican or Chicano next, other Hispanic or Asian third.  If the boxes allow for further breakdown among Asians, the recent Southeast Asian immigrants (Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) are more disadvantaged than the groups that have been in the U.S. longer.  

Next, there's the diversity statement.  You should make clear the extent to which you identify with each culture in your background.  If you grew up in a neighborhood where one ethnic group predominated, or if your family ties to one group are particularly strong, your essay should say so.  If one branch of your family disowned the other because of the interracial relationship, you should discuss this as well.  Any other evidence of ties to one community or another (such as membership in the NAACP, family vacations in Puerto Rico, and minority student groups or scholarships) should be highlighted in your essay, on your resume, or both.

If all of your ethnic heritages are of the same subgroup (i.e. Korean and Vietnamese, Mexican and Argentinean), you will almost automatically be treated as the more favored in the admission process.  If your ancestors represent disparate racial groups (i.e. Puerto Rican and Scottish), the admissions officers will tend to look much more closely at your essay and activities in making an admissions decision.  This is especially true on both coasts, where the variety of minority students abounds and the minority student groups tend to be very political.  A Chicana who speaks no Spanish may be Hispanic enough for Northwestern or Duke, but not for Georgetown or Stanford.  

If You Weren't Born in the U.S.,

make sure to also read my section on Foreign Students in addition to the appropriate racial or ethnic note.

To Be Or Not To Be (Black, White, Asian, etc.)

Should you disclose your race?  Should you not disclose?  It's amazing how often I'm asked this question.  And the answer is always easy.  There's no percentage in nondisclosure.  Refusing to answer gets you treated as if you'd answered "Caucasian."  It might make someone think you're trying to "get over" in some way, especially if you are in fact white.  So disclose.  

What about marking "other"?  

As I mention in my section devoted to this question, the new D.o.E. regulations make this virtually impossible, as well as virtually irrelevant.  You may check "Other" on an application, but the LSAC reports will disclose.  If you check "unwilling to disclose," you'll not only be counted as white, but perhaps perceived as trying to deceive.  My strong advice is to pick something from that long list.


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