February 5, 2020

Roadmap to Enrolling Diverse Law School Classes - Volume 4: Contextualizing Admission Factors

Diversity Programs

 

The purpose of this fourth volume of the Roadmap to Enrolling Diverse Law School Classes series is to provide law schools with a guide to using empirical research methods, such as regression analyses, to gain a better understanding of the relative impact of admission factors on student outcomes.

Introduction

Law student diversity is critical to the robust exchange of ideas that is the basis of legal education. Unfortunately, many law schools struggle to enroll classes that reflect the demographics of the regions, states, and even cities in which they are located. A commonly cited reason for the dearth of diversity in many schools is that the pool or “pipeline” of eligible prospective students is not diverse itself.1

The premise of this critique is rooted in the manner in which “merit” in the admission process is conceived. LSAT scores are the most prominent admission factor. Past academic performance, typically undergraduate GPA (UGPA), is often given prominence as well. Applicants with high LSAT scores and UGPAs will have many possible options for law school. Law schools also consider other factors, such as personal statements, letters of recommendation, and work experience. But the LSAT score and UGPA typically bear the most weight.2

Law schools want to admit and enroll students who are likely to be successful.3 The most common conception of a successful student is one who does well (or at least adequately) academically, passes the bar exam the first time, and secures full-time, professional employment shortly after graduation, if not before. So, the consideration of applications is essentially an exercise in prediction. Law schools are attempting to identify applicants most likely to attain favorable outcomes.

Ideally, the weight conferred to admission factors is justified by the value of each factor (or combination of factors) in predicting outcomes. Fairness, equity, and the fostering of diverse student bodies require that admission factors be properly contextualized. Narrow conceptions of merit can place applicants from underrepresented backgrounds at a disadvantage in the admission process, due, most significantly, to clear and enduring racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic LSAT score disparities. When factors such as LSAT scores are given undue weight, their impact is unduly harmful to some applicants.

But how can a law school determine the predictive value of different admission factors? The purpose of this fourth volume of the Roadmap to Enrolling Diverse Law School Classes series is to provide law schools with a guide to using empirical research methods, such as regression analyses, to gain a better understanding of the relative impact of admission factors on student outcomes. The volume presents the following steps to conducting these analyses:

  • Step 1: Consider outcomes to predict.
  • Step 2: Choose study subjects.
  • Step 3: Contemplate relevant factors.
  • Step 4: Collect data.
  • Step 5: Calculate relationships between variables.

 


1 Aaron N. Taylor, 2017, For Diversity: Let’s Talk Less About Pipelines and More About Why Blacks Are Not Admitted. http://nationaljurist.com/national-jurist-magazine/diversity-lets-talk-less-about-pipelines-and-more-about-why-blacks-are-not.
2 Vernellia R. Randall, 2006, The Misuses of the LSAT: Discrimination against Blacks and Other Minorities in Law School Admissions. https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/stjohn80&i=43.
3 Alexia Brunet Marks and Scott A. Moss, 2015, What Predicts Law Student Success? A Longitudinal Study Correlating Law Student Applicant Data and Law School Outcomes. https://doi.org/10.1111/jels.12114.