Legal Education Reform, Diversity, and Access to Justice

by Angela N. Johnson

Anderson’s article, “A Legal Education Prospectus,”  is in response to three reports in reforming legal education: The MacCrate Report, Best Practices, and the Carnegie Report.  It is Anderson’s belief that while all three reports provide helpful information and ideas for reform, none examine the grave crisis in lack of legal representation to those belonging to minority and disadvantaged groups and how law schools hold the power (by admitting more diverse students) to change the legal profession crisis.  This article is focused on minorities’ lack of presence in law school transferring to a lack of non-lawyer minorities’ lack of legal representation and access to justice.  However, parallels are drawn to the issue between minorities and women, such as the fact that both students of color and female students are often attracted to experiential learning opportunities and may better flourish in a curriculum that integrates doctrinal theory and practical skills and that such experiential and clinical courses aid the poor and disenfranchised which furthers the access to legal help to those in need.   According to Dean Anderson, “the legal field is disproportionately, overwhelmingly white.  Whites make up 67 percent of the U.S. population, but are almost 90 percent of its lawyers.  While Latinos, blacks, and Asian Americans are 12.5, 12.3, and 3.6 percent of the population, respectively, they are only 3.3, 3.9, and 2.3 of its lawyers” (Anderson 2009, 1011). Further, according to Anderson, “one reason for continued disproportionate rejection of applicants of color is the use of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).  Fueled, at least in part, by the controversial U.S. News & World Report Rankings, most law schools use the LSAT as a key determinant in admission decisions . . . about 90 percent of the differences in law school rankings by U.S. News & World Report can be explained by the median LSAT of the entering class”  (Anderson 2009, 1012, 1014-1015).  It is clear that minorities do not fare as well on the LSAT as their white counterparts, “the average LSAT score for white and Asian/Pacific Islander students is 155.  The average LSAT score for Chicanos is 149, for Latinos is 148, for blacks is 144, and for Puerto Ricans is 140  . . . the LSAT favors Whites among equally achieving college students . . . [yet] the LSAT predicts law school grades rather poorly (with a correlation of only 10-20 percent” (Anderson 2009, 1012-1014). The problem, according to Anderson, with restricting and disadvantaging minorities in the admissions process is that the “lack of diversity in the legal profession contributes to a justice deficit for communities in need” (Anderson 2009, 1015).  And the need isn’t just to help certain groups of minorities, the lack of access to counsel in civil cases is great, “at least 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are not being met . . . this study found that attorneys of color were more likely to serve clients of color, engage in public interest and public service practice, and offer pro bono legal services.  Law schools’ failure to admit diverse student bodies, therefore, not only affects the individuals denied admission, but it also contributes to the crisis in lack of service to and justice in minority communities”  (Anderson 2009, 1016-1017).  Anderson compares the crisis in the need for access to legal assistance similar to the “public health crisis” linked to the diversity in the medical profession.  Anderson believes that if legal education is reformed “without reconsidering who law schools educate and who our graduates serve, we will have missed an opportunity to transform the academy and to make legal education and the legal profession more relevant and its practices more just” (Anderson 2009, 1018-1019).  Rightfully so, Anderson realizes that the problem of admitting a diverse law school study body doesn’t begin at the application process.  Rather, the leaky pipeline begins as early as grade school, high school, and college, leaving less diversity in the pool of law school applicants and programs that excite youngsters about the practice of law to interest them in becoming lawyers themselves need to be strengthened (Anderson believes they are currently fairly weak) (Anderson 2009, 1029-1030).  “Pipeline to Justice” programs, like those implemented at Anderson’s law school (CUNY), aid students from the LSAT preparation process to the application process, and even in the summer-before-law school process, providing training and mentors at every step of the way.  These programs are extremely helpful but only reach-out to those who have survived the pipeline to get to the first step in the law school application process. In actuality, many more would-be students never make it to participate in Pipeline to Justice programs.

According to Anderson, law schools are undertraining students to undertake a career in law and this undertraining of law students creates “different, and much more detrimental, consequences for the post-J.D. careers of women and minority attorneys” (Anderson 2009, 1023).

In sum, Anderson argues that “Diversity in law schools enhances the education of majority students, but that is not why it is most valuable.  Rectifying the legal, social, financial, and status-related exclusion of racial minorities from the profession is itself a form of justice.  Moreover, diversity in the legal profession is most valuable because it will enhance the delivery of justice to disempowered communities” (Anderson 2009, 1024).

Source Citation: Anderson, Michelle J. “A Legal Education Prospectus: Law Schools & Emerging Frontiers: Legal Education Reform, Diversity, and Access to Justice.” Rutgers Law Review, 2009: 1011-1036.

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