Black Education / Schools : Study: Fewer Black Students In Law School (vid inside)

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    Study: Fewer Black Students In Law School
    LSAT, Rankings Affecting Admissions

    Diann Burns
    Reporting


    (CBS) CHICAGO There’s a disturbing trend in higher education. Fewer African-American students are enrolling in law school.

    An upcoming study says the law school admissions test, or LSAT, is being misused.

    Another factor: Law schools are being overly influenced by a popular magazine. The end result is a situation that could have serious consequences for our legal system.

    The late Johnnie Cochran captivated millions when making his cast at the O.J. Simpson trial.

    He was one of the most powerful attorneys in the country, and he was a man of color when less than 10 percent of all lawyers were minorities. And now, the numbers could get worse.

    “African-Americans’ law school enrollment is on a 10-year decline,” said the Thomas M. Cooley Law School's John Nussbaumer.

    Nussbaumer is the author of a new study in the St. John’s Law Review that blames what it calls the “misuse of the law school admissions test” and “racial discrimination” for, in effect, “restricting African-American access to the legal profession.”

    “Some schools are raising their LSAT scores to increase their U.S. News rankings, and that is having a devastating effect on African-American law school enrollment,” Nussbaumer said.

    The director of admissions at DePaul University’s law school agrees that could be a factor.

    “There's the temptation by law schools to want to move up in rankings,” Mike Burns said. “And because there's a difference in test scores among various ethnic groups, there's a real possibility that that's going to have real harmful impact.”

    Here in Illinois, the study found that African-American enrollment dropped at five law schools by an average 16.6 percent between 2002 and 2004.

    Burns said the exam does not reveal the total picture for the student.

    “It doesn’t tell us whether that applicant is likely to be a leader in law,” Burns said. “If they're ambitious, if they're going to work hard in school.”

    “My first LSAT scores were not that great, but I’ve passed my first semester of law school. I’m still doing very well in law school,” said first-year law student Tope Odoffin, who attends John Marshall Law School. “It's just kind of sad. In a class of 365, we have like 23 black students come in.”

    Nussbaumer puts much of that blame on the council within the American Bar Association that accredits law schools.

    He said it pressures schools to only accept students with the highest LSAT scores or face sanctions.

    He said it’s not intentional discrimination, but the results are just the same.

    “The council has an elitist conception of who deserves a chance to go to law school,” Nussbaumer said.

    Now, attorneys are taking action.

    “It's going to be more important for law firms to assist the law schools at increasing levels of diversity,” said attorney Barry Fields.

    Kirkland and Ellis is among several Chicago law firms sponsoring a “Diversity in Law” program to attract college students to the legal profession because many feel the consequences of a less diverse legal system would be catastrophic.

    “The people who need legal services from a diverse legal profession are not going to have the lawyers they need,” Nussbaumer said.

    The American Bar Association tells CBS 2: “The ABA does not impose minimum LSAT scores. We caution schools against placing too much weight on LSAT scores. We are also concerned that some schools may be relying too heavily on LSAT scores in their admissions decisions out of a desire to be ranked as high as possible in rankings published in the consumer press.”

    The Congressional Black Caucus is investigating the matter. The St. John’s Law Review will be published next month.
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