At the LSAT, a student with the means to review little more than a free LSAT-prep book might sit next to a student who knew of—and had access to—an expensive and intensive LSAT prep course that allowed him to take dozens of practice tests and review detailed explanations for why answer choice “A” was wrong and “C” was right.
In the law school admissions dance, a student with the means to have friends do little more than a quick typo-check of a personal statement could be compared with a student who paid top dollar for a former law-school admissions counselor to “help draft” applications and game the proper way to put Harvard Law within striking distance.
Access to insider knowledge, social capital, and money are often the only things that differentiate the two types of students contemplated above, but this unequal access can be outcome-determinative in many law school admissions decisions. Indeed, on a national level, this form of inequality no doubt contributes to a recent decline in law school admissions rates for certain minority groups. For example, according to a recent Columbia Law School report, certain populations of students within these demographics, such as African- and Mexican-American students, saw decreases of as much as eleven percent in attendance in law school. In a similarly disturbing trend, these populations’ “shut out” rate—i.e., the rate at which these students are not accepted to any law school—has seen dramatic increases in recent years.
In fact, the problem with diversity in law school applicants and matriculants may begin with the way the LSAT is structured and administered—and the heavy emphasis that is placed on the test in law school admissions decisions. One study published in the California Law Review found that high-achieving students of color applying to Boalt Hall from elite undergraduate institutions such as Harvard and Yale scored an average of nine points lower on the test than white students with similar majors and grade point averages. The difference in scores between students of otherwise similar academic achievement is particularly striking, given how even a few more points on this test can make a big difference in the tier of law school an applicant will be able to attend.
Add to this mix the fact that even the standard test-prep programs can cost thousands, and it is easy to understand why admission to law school is sometimes perceived as only attainable for those with a small mint. This perception alone may help to create homogenous law school classes populated disproportionately by students of means. The severity of the problem at top law schools was highlighted by a recent commencement speaker at Yale Law School, who noted that as many of this elite law school’s students come from households in the top one percent of U.S. income distribution as from the entire bottom half.
LAW SCHOOL…Yes We Can seeks to change this reality for students from communities underrepresented in the legal profession by providing them with the same tools relied upon by students who have more resources at their disposal in their quest to attend law school. In our program’s first two years, we have increased these students’ access to social capital by pairing rising college freshman who want to become lawyers with three attorney mentors, who provide counseling to our students as they trail-blaze through college—often as first-generation college students.
Now, our program enters its most critical stage as our first class of rising juniors will prepare for the LSAT and subsequent law-school admissions season. Our goal for our fellows at this stage is simple: to provide similar tools for LSAT and law-school admission preparation that students of greater means already receive. Our objective is to use this arsenal of resources to allow our veteran fellows to beat the odds and achieve admission to law school.
This is a two-year project for our veteran fellows. We will begin by having “Framing the Stakes” sessions with our fellows who are rising juniors to impress upon them the need to take seriously the challenge of doing well on the LSAT.
All fellows will then commit to preparing for the June 2017 LSAT, and we will initiate a competitive bidding process among the local and national LSAT preparation companies and select a program that all the fellows can begin in January 2017. We will supplement classroom sessions with a number of private tutoring classes exclusively for fellows. Further, we will house an LSAT “resource library” and encourage fellows to use this facility as the LSAT approaches. Finally, we will facilitate social activities with the fellows and mentors to provide a flood of community support to those studying for the exam.
A year from now, after our first class has taken the LSAT, our program will begin to focus on preparing our rising senior fellows for the law school application process. Our program will solicit bids from law-school admissions counseling programs to assist the fellows applying to law school or, as applicable, moving into interim careers that will make them more attractive law school candidates (for example, we will encourage our students to pursue other pre-law school activities such as the Peace Corps or law firm paralegal work). LSYWC will then repeat this programming with a second fellow class, starting in September 2017.
We will closely track fellow performance on practice tests and the actual LSAT, and fellow application and acceptance rates at law schools. We will also administer bi-monthly surveys to evaluate fellows’ struggles and achievements with the test preparation and the admissions process. This data will allow LSYWC to evaluate the success of the intended outcomes of our program: improved LSAT scores, reduced “shut out” rates, and increased acceptance and attendance rates.
This is an exciting time in the life of LAW SCHOOL…Yes We Can. Our program has a small village of support for our fellows: after just three years in existence we count in our ranks close to two hundred lawyers committed to supporting our nearly forty fellows. As we enter our next phase, we will ask all those who have said “yes” to the question of whether we can make a more inclusive legal profession to continue to contribute in time and treasure to this important mission.