Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have racial preferences reduced the number of black lawyers?

Gail Heriot:

Specifically, Mr. Sander found that when black and white students with similar academic credentials compete against each other at the same school, they earn about the same grades. Similarly, when black and white students with similar grades from the same tier law school take the bar examination, they pass at about the same rate.

Yet, paradoxically, black students as a whole have dramatically lower bar passage rates than white students with similar credentials. Something is wrong.

The Sander study argued that the most plausible explanation is that, as a result of affirmative action, black and white students with similar credentials are not attending the same schools. The white students are more likely to be attending a school that takes things a little more slowly and spends more time on matters that are covered on the bar exam. They are learning, while their minority peers are struggling at more elite schools.

Mr. Sander calculated that if law schools were to use color-blind admissions policies, fewer black law students would be admitted to law schools (3,182 students instead of 3,706), but since those who were admitted would be attending schools where they have a substantial likelihood of doing well, fewer would fail or drop out (403 vs. 670). In the end, more would pass the bar on their first try (1,859 vs. 1,567) and more would eventually pass the bar (2,150 vs. 1,981) than under the current system of race preferences. Obviously, these figures are just approximations, but they are troubling nonetheless.

Mr. Sander has his critics--some thoughtful, some just strident--but so far none has offered a plausible alternative explanation for the data. Of course, Mr. Sander doesn't need to be proven 100% correct for his research to be devastating news for affirmative-action supporters.

Suppose the consequences of race-based admissions turn out to be a wash--neither increasing nor decreasing the number of minority attorneys. In that case, few people would think it worth the costs, not least among them the human costs that result from the failure of the supposed beneficiaries to graduate and pass the bar.

Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The rest are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. How great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify these costs?

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Hurts Minorities

Law School Affirmative Action

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