California Bar Journal
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Approximately 18,000 students are enrolled in California’s 61 law schools. The vast majority — 14,000 — attend one of the 18 schools approved by the American Bar Association, and of those, 10,000 are white.

Minority enrollment at these schools varies widely, due largely to Proposition 209, which prohibits the use of affirmative action by the state, and the 1995 directive by the regents of the University of California barring consideration of race in admissions to undergraduate and graduate programs. Private law schools are bound by no such strictures.

Since the anti-affirmative action rules have been in place, three of four UC law schools generally have seen the enrollment of African-Americans, American Indians and Hispanics drop, while the number of Asian-American numbers stayed roughly the same and the number of white students climbed.

At UC Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law, which had long been in the forefront of minority recruitment, the decline was dramatic, going from a high of 39 to 40 percent minority enrollment to the present  20 to 25 percent. Boalt’s current first-year class is 22.3 percent minority, compared to 37.2 percent in the fall of 1996.

Similarly, UCLA’s current first-year class is 30.4 percent minority, compared to 38.1 percent in 1996.

UC Davis also has seen its numbers drop, with 27.3 percent minority enrollment in its current first-year class, compared to 38.9 percent in 1995.

Overall, enrollment in the current first-year classes of those three UC law schools combined is 26.7 percent this year, compared with a high of 45.3 percent in the fall of 1994.

Minority enrollment at Hastings, in San Francisco, which is independent of the regents but bound by Prop. 209, has remained relatively static at about 30 percent.

“We were making a big contribution to diversity in the legal profession in California,” lamented Lujuana Treadwell, Boalt’s assistant dean for the last eight years, “but we are no longer.”

Boalt made several changes to its admissions formula in an effort to continue to attract minority students, but with little success, Treadwell said. “From the work we did, and looking at what other schools have done, our conclusion was that short of taking race and  ethnicity into account, we could not make very significant increases,” she said. “We haven’t given up, but we’re worn out.”

“The fact that we can’t take race into account means there’s a lot we can’t do,” agreed Andrea Sossin-Bergman, director of admissions at the UCLA law school. “We’re not just hiding our head in the sand. We’re trying to do something. We hope it improves, but it’s difficult.”

Virtually every law school makes efforts to attract qualified minority students, using techniques ranging from generous financial aid packages to recruiting trips to cities with heavy minority populations. Private schools are permitted to take race into consideration in the admissions process.

The University of Southern California law school, which now boasts 40 percent minority enrollment, contacts high-achieving students and their advisors, encouraging them to apply. “We use our scholarship funds as part of our efforts to enroll minority students,” says associate dean Robert Saltzman. The price tag, however, is steep: $27,000 in annual tuition, with an estimated total tab of $35,000 a year.

The University of Santa Clara law school, with 39 percent minority enrollment, waives the application fee for some disadvantaged students, whom the school attracts by way of targeted mailings and recruiting trips to cities such as Atlanta and Chicago. Associate admissions director Jeanette Leach said she regularly attends forums for prospective students sponsored by the Law School Admission Council. Student groups review some applications prior to the admissions committee, sometimes requesting the committee to take a second look at a disadvantaged student who might otherwise be rejected, Leach said.

Like other law schools, UCLA has beefed up its outreach efforts, including efforts to improve applicants’ academic records.

“We have to try to work on the longterm academic pipeline to make sure folks are as academically competitive as possible,” said outreach director Leo Trujillo-Cox.

To that end, UCLA offers programs which target minority students ranging from elementary school to college. A law fellows program offers law-related courses to economically disadvantaged, high potential college students in the Los Angeles area who might be interested in applying to law school. Following completion of the course, volunteers in the program follow up with counseling and encouragement.

From the first group of 20, four enrolled in law school.

The biggest problem in minority recruiting, Trujillo-Cox said, is the disparity in grades and test scores between white and non-white students. Programs such as those at UCLA “are absolutely what we should be doing and have the potential to significantly add to the diversity of our classes,” he said. But as an overall solution to an ultimately political problem, affirmative action must be reinstated or the educational system must provide an even playing field to all students, Trujillo-Cox said.

USC’s Saltzman agrees that disparity issues which arise long before a student ever gets to college play a big role in the success of minority students.

“The real issue (in making the bar more diverse) is whether the numbers of minority students graduating from college and who want to go to law school increases and whether that happens in a function of a lot of things,” he said. “One is how well they are prepared before college.”

Regardless of the root of the problem, State Bar board member Palmer Madden says he finds the lack of diversity in the legal profession unacceptable.

“I don’t think we want to live in a society with these kind of trend lines,” Madden said. “In 20 years, when we have such a diverse culture, if we don’t have a diverse bar it won’t augur well for the profession.”

He hopes the bar can highlight the issue, undertake some programs to increase the number of minority lawyers and “work with other parts of our society” to make some changes.

Karen Nobumoto, a board member from Los Angeles, says just because the problem is societal does not mean it can be ignored. There are steps that can be taken now, she says.

For instance, many African-American students who fail the bar exam on the first attempt do not take the test again because of the high cost of taking the exam and bar preparation classes, which together could run more than $3,000. She favors offering an economic hardship fee for second-time test takers.

Nobumoto and others shy away from any suggestion that disadvantaged students be held to a different or lesser standard. “That creates a second class citizen and suggests that minorities can’t pass the bar exam,” Nobumoto said. “The bar exam is designed to produce ethical and competent attorneys and I can’t see that we would want to reduce that standard.”

Virtually no one who has looked at diversity in the profession believes there are any simple or quick solutions. Boalt’s Treadwell calls the question “the most difficult issue” she has faced and concedes, “I don’t know if I’m optimistic.”

Saltzman of USC said even though the number of minority students has increased at some schools, boosting the numbers in the profession will take years.

“Even if every law school had 30 to 40 percent minority students, it’s still a very long process to get the overall percentage of lawyers to match that.”

“I thought there were some easy answers,” added the bar’s Braun. “I’ve found the easy answers aren’t there.”