In January, the New York Times reported that “Law School Admissions Lag Among Minorities”. Relying exclusively on a study by Conrad Johnson, a professor at Columbia Law, the Times reported that the number of black and Mexican-American law school matriculants is in decline while their admissions credentials have been improving. The conclusion drawn by Professor Conrad and the Times reporter (Tamara Lewin) is that minority law school applicants are being shut out of law school and, hence, the lucrative opportunity to practice law.
None of these claims are borne out by the data. Using the same reference period as the article, (1993 to 2008), accurate statistics show that absolute numbers of black matriculants are up, and Hispanic matriculants are way up. Meanwhile, improvements in the average credentials of minority law school applicants have been trivial or non-existent over this same period. Comparing black and Hispanic admissions rates to credentially similar white applicants at a sample of 40 public law schools reveals a large advantage for under-represented minorities—a preference equivalent to 9 LSAT points for black applicants and 5 LSAT points for Hispanics.
Lewin’s article lost touch with the actual facts because it relied uncritically on Professor Conrad’s statistical analyses of data coming from the Law School Admissions Council, and his analyses made comparisons that LSAC’s website explicitly advises researchers not to make. Indeed, after the publication of Lewin’s piece, LSAC sent an e-mail to all law school deans disassociating themselves from the study and explaining why it is likely to be unreliable.