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We’re a long way from full diversity

By Anthony P. Capozzi
President, State Bar of California

Anthony Capozzi
Anthony Capozzi

On August 23, 2002, the board of governors adopted a strategic plan that brought the bar in line with the changing membership and the evolving demographics of California. As a result of these changes, the board of governors proposed goals and strategies that the bar would strive to achieve in order to continue as a strong and responsive voice in shaping our state. Significantly, the State Bar encouraged individuals from diverse backgrounds to seek and qualify for admission to the practice of law in California.

This is a lofty goal — i.e., diversity in the profession, especially when we look at the following 2000 census figures in the State of California: 50.2 percent of the population are women; 6.4 percent are African-American; 11.2 percent are Asian Pacific Islander; 32.4 percent are Latino; and 41 percent are Caucasian. 

The State Bar of California did a survey of lawyers in California in 1991 and 2001 which revealed the following statistics:

  • In 1991, 26 percent of its lawyers were women; in 2001, that figure rose to 32 percent.
  • Percentages of lawyers in every ethnic group but Caucasian also increased in the decade from 1991 to 2001. The number of African-American lawyers went from 2 percent to 2.4 percent; Asian-Pacific Islander lawyers went from 3 percent to 6 percent; the number of Latino lawyers went from 3 percent to 3.7 percent and the number of other minorities increased from 8 percent to 17 percent.

The number of Caucasian lawyers declined from 91 percent to 83 percent in those 10 years.

These statistics are not encouraging. Why is there such a slow growth in the minority population of attorneys in California?

The committee of bar examiners prepared general statistics from the February 2004 bar exam of first-time takers which indicate in pertinent part:

Of the 761 Caucasians who took the exam for the first time, 54.1 percent passed; of the 83 African Americans, 18.1 percent passed; of the 88 Latinos, 22.7 percent passed; and of the 141 Asian Pacific Islanders, 32.2 percent passed.

Clearly it is disturbing that such a low pass rate exists for people of color. 

We strive to achieve racial diversity equal to the population of California but if our board of governors or our State Bar membership was 100 percent minority, does anyone believe that the bar pass rate would increase? I think not. Based on my law school experience, grading in law school is done without knowledge of the student’s race and everyone was treated pretty badly!

Since one of our strategic goals is to increase diversity within the bar, we need to look to the law schools and analyze why some law schools have better pass rates than others, keeping in mind that under the best of circumstances, a 50 percent pass rate is quite good.

What I found remarkable is that four California-accredited law schools had good rates on the February 2004 exam: Empire College School of Law had a 75 percent pass rate; University of La Verne College of Law had a 67 percent pass rate; San Fernando Valley College of Law had a 50 percent pass rate; and Cal Northern School of Law also had a 50 percent pass rate. In the July 2003 exam, on the other hand, the top four California-accredited schools were Southern California Institute of Law, with a pass rate of 100 percent; University of La Verne College of Law with a pass rate of 50 percent; Cal Northern School of Law with a pass rate of 36 percent; and University of West Los Angeles School of Law with a pass rate of 35 percent.

The numbers taking the bar exam from each of these schools in February were minimal compared to the top four ABA law schools of California: University of California, Los Angeles, with a pass rate of 79 percent; Pepperdine University had a pass rate of 70 percent; University of California, Berkeley, with a pass rate of 67 percent and California Western School of Law with a pass rate of 61 percent. The four ABA-approved law schools with the highest pass rates for July 2003 were Stanford, 92 percent; University of California, Berkeley, 91 percent; University of California, Los Angeles, 89 percent; and University of San Diego, 83 percent.

Why do these law schools have a better passing rate than others? It’s hard to determine since the pass rate among the law schools differs from exam to exam.

Should the State Bar now appoint a task force to undertake an aggressive and extensive outreach program throughout the state which would draw upon the resources and contacts of the entire profession and include a network of educators and law school deans to interface with professional representatives, educators, and local and minority bar association representatives to develop strategies for increasing minority representation in the legal profession?

The committee of bar examiners recommended this in 1988 to the then board of governors committee on professional standards. I think it’s time to implement the recommendation.

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